The 2011 DCTS Audience Choice Awards polls closed Wednesday night at midnight, and the results showed that, even though area residents weathered an earthquake and Hurricane Irene, they took time to remember the theatrical season and let their voices be heard.
Round House’s Amadeus won a narrow victory among DC Theatre Scene voters as favorite resident play in the 2010-2011 season, while veteran actor Edward Gero, who played Salieri in that production, was the clear choice as the season’s favorite actor in a resident play and Erica Sullivan, who played a bubblehead-turned dominatrix in Studio Theatre’s Venus in Fur, won the favorite actress in a resident play designation by the smallest of margins over Heather Haney (Mary Stuart) and Jenny Jules (Ruined).
On the musicals side, Arena Stage’s Oklahoma! easily outpaced Shakespeare Theatre’s revival of Candide to win the audience’s approval as favorite musical of the season. However, Candide’s Geoff Packard and Hollis Resnik each won tightly-contested races as favorite actor and actress, respectively, in a resident musical, against colleagues from the Oklahoma! cast.
In other balloting, Adventure Theatre’s Charlotte’s Web was an easy choice as the season’s favorite family show, and Steppenwolf’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? narrowly beat the touring production of Wicked at the Kennedy Center to win designation as the season’s favorite non-resident production. Tracy Letts, who played George in that production, was a close choice by voters as favorite actor in a non-resident production over the Sidney Theater Company’s Cate Blanchett, who played Yelena in the production of Uncle Vanya at the Kennedy Center.
Sasha Olinick won the voters’ approval as favorite actor in a family production for his performance as Toad in Imagination Stage’s The Wind in the Willows and Deidra LeWan Starnes was designated favorite family production actress for her performance in the title role of Adventure Theatre’s Charlotte’s Web.
The ensemble work of Rick Foucheux, Edward Gero, Aaron Davidman, Derek Thompson and Joshua Morgan of The Chosen, a collaboration between Theater J and Arena Stage, was the audience choice for favorite ensemble.
DC Theatre Scene’s Terry Ponick called Amadeus “a visceral, enthralling evening of theater, an absolute must-see for any avid area theatergoer and proof positive that you no longer have to take the Acela Express to New York to find a definitive production” and noted of Gero that “[w]e’ve seen [him] in many roles over the years. This could very well be his finest performance to date.” DC Theatre audiences apparently agreed,on both scores.
Sullivan, of whom DCTS’ Tim Treanor said “[i]t is impossible to overstate the quality of Sullivan’s work in this play…She is incandescent, illuminating this fine work with the sort of intelligence which makes her character at once ridiculous and endearing, embraceable and radiant with toxic power,” was a slim choice over veteran DC actor Heather Haney, who played the title role in WSC Avant Bard’s production of Mary Stuart, and Jenny Jules, who was Mama Nadi in Arena’s Ruined.
The competition among the musicals were similarly close. Oklahoma!, about which DCTS reviewer Jayne Blanchard said, “From top to bottom, the cast is robustly at the top of their game…[Director Molly] Smith portrays the optimism of turn of the century America with pitch perfect gusto” outdistanced Candide and Signature’s Chess. But Candide’s Packard, who played the title role, and Resnik, who played a cynical, nameless old woman, proved to be the audience favorites among musical performers.
DCTS’s Ponick reviewed Candide. He noted that “in addition to his physical appeal and acting chops, Packard adds a fine, expressive voice that finds itself easily at home in Bernstein’s appealing yet difficult score.” Of Resnik, he observed that “[t]he role [of the old woman] in this production is literally inhabited by Hollis Resnik whose broadly comic approach brings her scenes to pulsating life, particularly in her signature tune, ‘I Am Easily Assimilated.’”
Charlotte’s Web was last season’s favorite family show, as was Ms Starnes performance, in the title role. DCTS reviewer Debbie Jackson noted that Charlotte’s Web “speaks to the kid in all of us because it relays a genuine sense of friendship, generosity, care, and caring, for which there are no age limits.” Jackson also said that Ms. Starnes, “obviously has no bounds in being able to mesmerize a crowd…With her engaging appeal, winsome smiles and loving manner, [she] portrays Charlotte with affection and caring, offering gentle words of encouragement to those who would otherwise fall by the wayside.”
Olinick, who also won critical acclaim for his portrayal of Mozart in Amadeus, was the clear audience choice as favorite actor in a family production. Being a Toad in Imagination Stage’s The Wind in the Willows may not have been as glamorous as being Mozart, but DCTS’ Rosalind Lacy, in reviewing the production, said “Olinick, who is perfectly endearing and a giggle-a-minute in this role, proves his versatility as a character actor…dressed in white Duster Coat, long scarf and bug-eyed goggles, Olinick swaggers in his mottled-fabric, toad-skin breeches, clicks his heels like a toad in flight, and struts like a puffed-up penguin with the grandeur of an opera star.”
Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre gave Edward Albee’s classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a bit of a facelift by giving Tracy Lett’s George, traditionally passive-aggressive, a more fearsome aspect. The gamble paid off among DCTS voters. DCTS’s Blanchard, in reviewing the production at Arena Stage, noted that “Edward Albee’s 1962 majestic three-act matrimonial grudge match, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is as vigorous and uncompromising as ever” and said of Letts that “[the play’s] newness can be partially attributed to actor and playwright Tracy Letts’ remarkable performance as George…Mr. Letts’ George displays a lethal and sophisticated aggression that lacerates like a fine boning knife.”
Finally, The Chosen, a collaboration between Theater J and Arena Stage, won the balloting for favorite ensemble production. Ms. Blanchard, in reviewing The Chosen, noted that “the production’s pleasures are revealed in the silences and the emotions unspoken between fathers and sons, as well as between two very different friends.”
DCTS audience choice award winners are selected by pre-registered voters among productions and performances nominated by DCTS reviewers and staff. This year, there were two rounds of balloting, with the top three finishers in each category squaring off in the second round. “The real winner was theatre in DC,” said DCTS editor Lorraine Treanor. “The balloting proves we have a cityfull of vigorous theatrical productions, which are vigorously appreciated by their audiences.”