‘TONY’ AWARDS: Anthony Del Valle offers bravos to local theater community

It was a bit painful compiling my 14th annual local “Las Vegas Tony Awards” (“Tony” meaning only me), honoring community theater.

Although I’m glad to have the opportunity to single out the artists listed here, there are too many worthy people I had to leave out. There are a lot of mediocre productions out there, but writing this article reminded me of the rich choices available. I often go home now from a live show feeling maybe a bit more spiritual, or more willing to laugh at my troubles, or appreciating the awe in the disciplined human body.

When you think of how theater is so underappreciated in this town, I’m amazed that so many are so willing to work so hard to bring us the best. Here’s my bravo to some of those who brought me much pleasure during the September 2010 to August 2011 theater season (I’ve omitted shows performed in academic and city-owned institutions because they have assets not available to community playhouses):

Outstanding Theater Group: True, Super Summer Theatre at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park is “just” a producing organization. It was founded in 1976, hiring local troupes to perform mostly musicals and light fare. To be blunt, the product was often embarrassingly bad. But they’ve grown to become host to consistently outstanding productions. This season, they offered a hilarious and well-acted “The Foreigner” (by the British National Theatre of America), a surprisingly fresh “Annie” (Stage Door Entertainment), and a moving “The Drowsy Chaperone” (P.S. Productions). For Super Summer to have upgraded itself so quickly makes it obvious someone there is making a lot of right decisions. No runners-up.

Outstanding Production: Super Summer Theatre/P.S. Productions’ July “The Drowsy Chaperone” (directed by Philip Shelburne) was a seamless tapestry of singing, dancing and comedic happiness. The cast made this tale of a lonely man who fantasizes about playing host to the cast of a musical comedy a warm celebration about the joy of human interaction. First runner-up: Super Summer Theatre/British National Theatre of America’s July “The Foreigner” (directed by Scott Johnson) for the production’s perfect comic timing and believability. Second runner-up: Cockroach Theatre’s “The Flu Season” (directed by Levi Fackrell in April at Creative Studios), for communicating a communal sense of isolation that was hard to shake off.

Outstanding Actor: Miles Coleman in Super Summer Theatre/British National Theatre of America’s “The Foreigner” showed us the multiple sides of lead character Charlie Baker as he went from a self-tormented milquetoast, a frantic full of exaggerated physicality, to a strong man who has found peace. Rarely does one see a local performer as versatile. First runner-up: Cory Benway, for bringing a cold, self-absorbed, little-boy attitude in a rich performance as the infamous Dr. Frank ‘n’ Furter in Off-Strip/Onyx Theatre’s “The Rocky Horror Show,” directed in October by Joe Hynes. Second runner-up: Gus Langley for his ability to project the tough exterior with a heart of gold taxi driver in Las Vegas Little Theatre Black Box’s “Hellcab,” directed in December by Troy Heard.

Outstanding Actress: Mindy Woodhead in Cockroach Theatre’s “The Flu Season,” came across as an airhead psychiatric patient in the first act, and transformed into a woman of great depth and sorrow in the second. It felt like a very private performance, something we shouldn’t be privy to, because Woodhead was able to expose so realistically her character’s internal pain. First runner-up: Marlena Shapiro for her amusing and moving amnesia victim in Las Vegas Little Theatre Black Box’s “Fuddy Meers,” directed in September by Mario Mendez. Second runner-up: Anita Bean, for her monstrously hilarious Miss Hannigan in Super Summer Theatre/Stage Door Entertainment’s “Annie” (directed in June by Terrence Williams).

Outstanding Supporting Actor: Drew Yonemori is an actor of many faces. In Endless Productions’ “The Wind in the Willows” (directed by Timothy Burris in June for the annual fringe festival at Las Vegas Little Theatre), he buried himself in the role of very proper British Moley, a reserved but kind anthropomorphized character. The performer made you forget every other role he’s ever played. First runner-up: Mario Mendez, for his nimble, impish and likable small-time crook in Las Vegas Little Theatre’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” directed in July by Walter Niejadlik. Second runner-up: Sean Cancellieri, for his ability to play sketch characters and a frighteningly real rapist in Atlas Productions’ “The Blue Hour,” directed by Judith Kalora for the fringe festival at Las Vegas Little Theatre Black Box.

Outstanding Supporting Actress: Andee Gibbs has an irresistible natural bounce and comedic presence. In Super Summer Theatre/P.S. Productions’ “The Drowsy Chaperone,” she was all giddy and gaudy as the nerdy widow Mrs. Tuttendale. She played the red Medusa-curled rich lady as a cross between a “Wizard of Oz” munchkin and an adult, sensuous Little Orphan Annie. First runner-up: Kellie Wright for her drunken, cynical vamp with the voice of a confident diva in the title role of Super Summer Theatre/P.S. Productions’ “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Second runner-up: Gail Romero, for being able to get laughs and sympathy as an elderly speech-challenged stroke victim in Las Vegas Little Theatre Black Box’s “Fuddy Meers.”

Outstanding Director: Philip Shelburne’s first major achievement in Super Summer Theatre/P.S. Productions’ “The Drowsy Chaperone” was in casting so well. His second was guiding the actors into nuanced performances. Shelburne made sure the laughs were there, but also fine-tuned the small, touching moments. He has rarely before exhibited such an expertly unified vision. First runner-up: Levi Fackrell for being able to bring out the daffy humor and the devastating drama in Cockroach Theatre’s “The Flu Season.” Second runner-up: Scott Johnson, for his skillful manipulation of comic timing and characterization in Super Summer Theatre/British National Theatre of America’s “The Foreigner.”

Outstanding Set Designer: Ron Lindblom in Las Vegas Little Theatre’s “Doubt” (directed in November by Walter Niejadlik) created on a small stage a Catholic school environment complete with stained-glass windows, medieval arc passageways and a towering statue of the Virgin Mary. It was perhaps his finest local work. First runner-up: Timothy Burris for his cartoonish, beautifully overblown environment for Endless Productions’ “The Wind in the Willows” at the fringe festival at Las Vegas Little Theatre. Second runner-up: Ron Lindblom (again) for his ability to tell us so much about character in his three-bedroom layout for Las Vegas Little Theatre’s “Bedroom Farce,” directed in January by Rob Kastil.

Outstanding Light Designer: David Schulman brought a surprising amount of visual variety to Super Summer Theatre/Jade Productions’ “Fiddler on the Roof,” directed in August at Spring Mountain Ranch by Joy Demain. He used a lot of merry, bright yellows in the comedic scenes, and yet respected the script’s poignancy. He well-served in very different ways two very different acts. First runner-up: Shawn Hackler and Cynthia Vodovoz for Butcher Block’s “Sing to Me Through Open Windows” (directed by the pair for the fringe festival at Las Vegas Little Theatre). They brought haunting illumination to a show that was sharing a light plot with several other productions. Second runner-up: Ginny Adams for framing the drama in Las Vegas Little Theatre’s “Doubt” with clever, multiple sources of somber light that heightened believability in the script’s religious locale.

Outstanding Costume Designer: David Heckman greatly helped Off-Strip Productions/Onyx Theatre’s “The Rocky Horror Show” achieve a decadent, flashy feel. His work put you on seat’s edge as you wondered what the next outfit would look like. First runner-up: Penni Mendez for multiplying the laughs with her threads for a stage full of enjoyable perverts in Table 8 Productions/Onyx Theatre’s “Theodora: She-bitch of Byzantium” (directed in August by Troy Heard). Second runner-up: Sandra Huntsman for her picturesque 1920s outfits that helped give Super Summer Theatre/P.S. Productions’ “The Drowsy Chaperone” an elegant, fantasy look.

Outstanding Choreographer: Teresa Martinez brought a welcomed and consistent light touch to the movement in Signature Productions’ “Singin’ in the Rain” (directed in April at the Summerlin Performing Arts Center by Leslie Fotheringham). And her tap routines were to die for. First runner-up: Tracey Corea for her nonstop tongue-in-cheek footwork for Super Summer Theatre/P.S. Productions’ “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Second runner-up: Jenna Wurtzberger for the over-the-top Vegas-y effects she lent to Onyx Theatre’s “The Rocky Horror Show.”

Special Mention: The late Ray Okonski, well-known to many local theatergoers as a loyal audience member who watched for years all performances featuring his wife, Helen. And that’s a lot of watching, since there is rarely a local play without Helen in it.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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