It seems no production opens without longtime arts buff David Tannous sitting front row center. As the recipient of DC Theatre Scene’s 2011 Gary Lee Maker Award for Outstanding Audience Member, Tannous has brought boundless enthusiasm and a smart analytical eye to Washington shows for decades. On the eve of this year’s awards, DC Theatre Scene spoke with Tannous about his responses to 2011 musical theatre in the DC area. What follows is our distillation of his thoughts, culled from extensive conversation.
From the top – an overview by David Tannous
As I look over the various nominations in all the categories in resident musicals, it reminds me just how good we’ve had it this past year. I subscribe to many theatres in town for exactly this reason. I don’t subscribe just because of planning and pricing. I see it as a theatre-goer’s civic duty. It provides money in advance to hard-working companies. It’s an investment, and a promise of support.
I treat theatre-going as a job. And as theatre has grown in DC, it’s become nearly a full-time job. Some years ago, you could see everything in a season, all around town, and not really have missed anything. But in recent years we’ve all been forced to start picking and choosing. It’s a good thing. It’s a sign of a vigorous arts scene.
In New York there’s a lot of compartmentalization. Equity actors get hired at certain houses, and frequently they don’t have much to do with the actors at smaller houses. But Washington is so collegial. People know each other, and work with each other. Actors at Olney Theatre Center also appear on stage at Shakespeare Theatre. It’s one of the things that makes Washington vital as a theatre town.
Musicals in DC have been outstanding in the last half-dozen years, and they’re getting even better. We have a very rich group of actors, singers, dancers, designers, and directors. It’s a big trick to bring a musical off. Frequently I see shows more than once, and when I go multiple times I try to space out my visits during the run. It’s very instructive and interesting to observe the time it takes for plays to click, to connect, to grow deeper and explore timing and tone during the run. With musicals in particular, because they’re so much more structurally complex.
But I don’t ever see DC shows fall apart over time. I only see them get stronger. It’s a credit to the quality of the pool of professionals we have in town. They seem to have bottomless wells of energy. I don’t know, maybe everyone’s collapsing backstage. But from the front row, where I like to sit, I can see the small things as well as the large things. The small, focused interactions between actors — their body language, their nuance. For me, that’s what really makes a show rich.
More from David Tannous on the 2012 Helen Hayes Musical categories:
In addition to these categories, Tannous also had some interesting observations about the nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actor. Although we have previously spoken with actor Will Gartshore about this category, we’re exciting to add more thoughts to the mix. You can read them below.
Outstanding Supporting Actor, Resident Musical
I kept hearing from people last year that A Year With Frog and Toad was a hot thing to see. Somehow I didn’t make it out there, and that’s my fault and my loss. So I can’t speak to the performances by Jobari Parker-Namdar and Vishal Vaidya that are nominated in this category.
Bobby Smith in The Sound of Music? Let’s just say I’m not surprised. I have to tell a little story for a moment. The most recent performance of 1776 I saw, just a few days ago, it turns out that Bobby went on as the understudy for John Adams. He had never gone on in that role, and he was informed three hours before showtime that he had to go on. And he was spectacular. Not only did he get through it, but he absolutely shown. He was able to bring to light what had clearly been some well-thought out understudy work. He brought everything to it. The electricity in the room was fizzing. It was a superb role for him.
My point is, Bobby can play so many layers. He always brings three dimensions to every role. His backstory is so strong, every time. That’s what made his performance as Max in The Sound of Music so memorable. That role gives a great deal of color and context to the rather serious larger story of The Sound of Music, and he brought a real sense of integrity to it. It’s a more complex character than it seems on the surface. Bobby brought to the stage a sense of a previous life — a sense of sadness and rueful self-awarenesss that comes from having lived for a certain amount of time. Very nice work.
I was impressed to hell by Matthew Delorenzo in POP! — as Candy Darling he was unbelievable, in the best of ways. I so hope he considers coming to DC when he graduates from college. I certainly hope that Signature is aware of him. He’s got great talent. I was blown away — really, really impressed. He’s physically big, and even taller in those heels! What an interesting contrast alongside Rachel Zampelli, who’s nominated for her performance as Valerie Solanis. Valerie’s behavior mixes political certainty with self-doubt, and because there’s that doubt deep down she reacts with rage. Whereas Matthew, as Candy, doesn’t give off that sense that there’s anything wrong with who he is. No need to apologize for yourself. Instead there’s a feeling that Candy has been through hell, and has come out on the other side like something produced from a bronze foundry. Candy is cast out of strong stuff, and she totally takes charge. In every scene, our eyes were drawn to Matthew. Candy is the antithesis of Andy. Where Andy’s a completely non-declarative, Candy stirs us up. Matthew sense of self-possession reminds me of Parker Drown’s work as Angel in Keegan Theatre’s production of Rent in 2010.
As for Dan Van Why, I’m pleased to see him on the list of nominees. I saw him in productions of Peter Pan, Grease, and Forever Plaid. So to see him in National Pastime at Keegan Theatre is great. The way he presents himself, it has no trace of false bravado. He simply shows great confidence in what he’s capable of, and he’s not afraid to do so. When you see Dan onstage, whether it’s in a small role or a big role, he fixes your attention. He deserves more major roles — roles that showcase guys who feel confident in their skin and who are ready to lead the way. You’re caught by whatever character Dan is playing on a given night. I don’t mean he’s blunt. In fact, what registers on his face is a sense that he’s aware of the cloud of possibilities that hovers over every situation. Like a good platoon leader, he’s great at surveying the terrain and making a forecast. And then he steps in with strength.
I was impressed by Kevin McAllister in Parade. I also really liked the work Ricardo Frederick Evans did in Dr. Dolittle. But again I felt that Ricardo wasn’t given the best opportunity out of the lot, based on the limitations of the length of the play and by the script itself. I’ve seen Ricardo before, in plays with more depth. So, the three performers that most excited me in this category are Bobby, Matthew, and Dan. I always look forward to what Bobby and Dan do. Now, I’m looking forward to Matthew as well.
Find all our tributes to the 2012 Nominees on Curtain Call.