No, it’s not the real thing.
But every August our Tony committee of one — that’s me — gets to name his favorite local theater productions. So, maybe we can be forgiven for calling it the Tonys — the annual salute to the theater community’s best; well, in the opinion of one person, anyway.
I saw more than 100 theater-related productions during this past season, which ran from September through late summer, and reviewed 88. Twenty-four received a judgment rating in the “A” range, 23 in the “B,” 17 “C,” 18 “D” and six “F.” I find that encouraging news. It means local theatergoers have more of a chance, statistically, of seeing a good production than a bad one when they make a blind leap in sampling an unknown entertainment. It also means, with a little careful shopping, an outstanding production can easily be found in a theater near you.
Of course, it all comes down to personal taste. But the stats suggest that local theater is at least worth checking out. There are dozens of locals who, on their own free time, have made the effort to train themselves on the craft that is legitimate theater. That’s extraordinary, considering we live in a town that, to put it as politely as possible, doesn’t seem to recognize the healing that the arts can do.
In this awards selection, the focus is limited to community theater, which doesn’t have the financial or recruiting advantages of educational institutions. (I’ll honor the schools in a Theater Chat column Friday.) The names that follow are among those worthy of respect for demanding excellence when excellence often doesn’t matter.
The envelope please:
Outstanding Theater Group
There are those who will think the youth-oriented The Rainbow Company was selected simply because the Review-Journal wants to sound like good, civic folk. But I’d challenge anyone to come up with another local playhouse that so consistently took chances, told such unusual stories, worked so diligently and creatively, and gave us such a good time. Under the artistic direction of Karen McKenney, the group brought to life, among other things, the world of a marsh in “A Year With Frog and Toad” (directed by Brian Kral), an enchanted environment of good princesses and nasty aunts in “The Land of the Dragon” (directed by Toni Molloy-Tudor), an original sketch musical about “The Trails of Old Nevada” (written and directed by McKenney), and a poignant original drama (by Kral) about a 12-year-old boy who is emotionally neglected by his father (“One to Grow On,” directed by Scott Davidson). Rainbow combines traditional children’s literature with daring stories that intellectually provoke kids and grown-ups alike.
A can of sardines was pretty much the central theme of Michael Frayan’s 1983 “Noises Off,” but in the hands of director Aaron Tuttle, Super Summer Theatre and P.S. Productions, it was enough to make for an evening, in September, of nonstop skilled nonsense. Tuttle made sure this tale about the farcical goings-on behind the stage during a touring production kept building until it exploded in the second act and double-boomed in the third. He took care with the most cornball of overdone jokes so that they felt fresh again. The top-notch cast members were amazingly in sync with the off-the-wall material. Some don’t like this play’s obviousness. Tuttle kept me too busy laughing to complain.
First runner-up: Super Summer Theatre/P.S. Productions’ exciting August mounting of Andrew Lloyd-Webber/Tim Rice’s 1970 “Jesus Christ Superstar” (directed by Phil Shelburne) at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. Second runner-up: The Rainbow Company’s moving original domestic drama by Brian Kral, “One to Grow On” (directed in April by Scott Davidson) at Reed Whipple Center; Musical Actors Theatre’s June production of the 1980 songfest “42nd Street,” expertly brought to life by Jim Carey at the Summerlin Performing Arts Center.
Erik Amblad’s pedophile character in Las Vegas Little Theatre’s May production of Bryony Lavery’s 2004 “Frozen” in the Fischer Black Box (directed by TJ Larsen) was a creepy, yet absorbing and at times likable portrait of a child/man. His little-boy-lost demeanor allowed the audience to connect to him in ways it might never forget.
First runner-up: Wayne Wilson for his expert, multitude everyman roles in New American Theatre Project’s January production of Eric Bogosian’s “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee” (directed by Will Sturdivant and Wilson), at Fischer Black Box. Second runner-up: Adam Allen, the subdued yet always thinking actor, as the student who gets caught up in a riveting mathematical puzzle in Stage Door Entertainment’s April production in the Fischer Black Box of David Auburn’s 2001 “Proof” (directed by Heather Grindstaff). Third runner-up: Mark Brunton as the infamous Ensign Pulver, determined to enjoy life in the dull World War II Pacific in Las Vegas Little Theatre’s production of Thomas Heggen/Joshua Logan’s 1948 “Mister Roberts,” (directed by Jim Williams) on the main stage.
Kellie Wright, as the sensuous, blunt but vulnerable owner of a house of ill repute in Sullivan, Freyd, Sperling Entertainment’s October production of Carol Hall’s 1978 “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” at the Starbright Theatre (directed by Betty Sullivan-Cleary). Wright made her character a healthy combination of warmth, woman, warrior and naughty girl.
First runner-up: Lara Lanae Freeborn as a bitter but still hopeful bridesmaid in Las Vegas Little Theatre’s November production of Alan Ball’s 1993 “Five Women Still Wearing the Same Dress,” (directed on the main stage by Walter Niejadlik). Second runner-up: Meagan Bartle as a scheming, unfeeling grad student in New American Theatre Project’s production of Neil LaBute’s 2001 “The Shape of Things” (directed in May by Gregg Curtis) at the Aruba Hotel. Third runner-up: Barbara King as a seemingly prim-and-proper shrink determined to “cure” a flaming homosexual in the Onyx Theatre’s production of Del Shores’ 1996 “Sordid Lives,” (directed in January by Mary O’Brien).
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR
Evan Walker’s snazzy turn as the snail who delivers the mail in The Rainbow Company’s December mounting at the Charleston Heights Arts Center of Robert and Willie Reale’s 2003 Broadway musical “A Year With Frog and Toad” proved that the young actor has the performance instincts of a musical-comedy veteran.
First runner-up: Selsdon Mowbray for his mixture of John Barrymore-grandeur and Alfred P. Doolittle-earthiness as a drunken actor in the Super Summer Theatre/P.S. Production of “Noises Off.” Second runner-up: Joe Maloney, whose heartfelt but unsentimental narration of a story about a troubled boy helped ground The Rainbow Company’s production of “One to Grow On.” Third runner-up: Daniel Bernbach for his nasty smile as the nasty brother in Stage Door Entertainment’s February production of Stephen Schwartz’s 1972 “Pippin” (directed by Terrence Williams) at the Fischer Black Box.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Hilary Williams, whose daffy actress character in Super Summer Theatre/P.S. Productions’ “Noises Off” brought to mind those memorable staples of British TV comedy, Patricia Routledge and Molly Sugden. You couldn’t ask for a funnier loony.
First runner-up: Nancy Denton as a diva with a heart in Musical Actor Theatre’s “42nd St.” Second runner-up: Erica Griffin, for the vulnerability she communicated as the victim of a devious grad student in The New American Theatre Project’s “The Shape of Things.” Third runner-up: Susan Lowe, for her deliciously evil Aunt Harp in The Rainbow Company’s “The Land of the Dragon.”
Scott Davidson brought a seamless ensemble style to The Rainbow Company’s “One to Grow On,” which is just what a “quiet” play about a dysfunctional family needs. He elicited moving performances from both children and veteran actors alike, but kept the story the central focus.
First runner-up: Aaron Tuttle for his controlled direction of the farce “Noises Off” for P.S. Productions/Super Summer Theatre. Second runner-up: Philip Shelburne for his aggressive, comical and moving take on “Jesus Christ Superstar” for Super Summer Theatre/P.S. Productions. Third runner-up: Jim Carey for the brio and humor he brought to Musical Actors Theatre’s “42nd St.”
OUTSTANDING SET DESIGNER
In Super Summer Theatre/P.S. Productions’ “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Evan Baroletti’s open grid set hosted on a raked, grated stage towered over by a giant wristwatch-shaped screen that depicted video of action and images, gave the story the pulse of an apocalyptic, Nostradamus nightmare. It was also immensely pleasing to the eye.
First runner-up: Edward D. Padilla for his fun representation of an unworldly home in “The Vampire, the Virgin and the Very Horny Night,” written and directed by Padilla in October at the Onyx Theatre. Second runner-up: J Neal for his visualization of marsh life in The Rainbow Company’s “A Year with Frog and Toad.” Third runner-up: Gregg Curtis’ use of riggings, sound and video helped convert the Aruba Hotel stage into an urgent, dramatic environment for The New American Theatre Project’s “The Shape of Things.”
OUTSTANDING LIGHT DESIGNER
Those who have worked there will tell you the Spring Mountain Ranch stage is not an easy space to light, which makes Jay Ledane’s aggressive, sensual design for Super Summer Theatre/P.S. Productions’ “Jesus Christ Superstar” all the more remarkable. It went a long way in giving us the illusion not only of passion but of multiple sets.
First runner-up: Jody Callie’s classical framing of The Rainbow Company’s “The Land of the Dragon” that helped keep the action at a distance in the land of long ago. Second runner-up: Dale Ripingill, whose work conveyed startling and varied emotional temperatures in The New American Theatre Project’s “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee.” Third runner-up: Jay Ledane’s breathtaking pictorial effects in Signature Productions’ March mounting of the Webber/Rice musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (directed by Leslie Fotheringham and Steven Huntsman) at the Summerlin Performing Arts Center in May.
BEST COSTUME DESIGNER
Edward D. Padilla for his wicked imagination in coming up with the evil clothes in his Onyx Theater production of his “The Vampire, the Virgin and the Very Horny Night.” The costumes offered the nightmare vision of attire expected.
First runner-up: Victoria Shaffer for elegant and vigorously comic threads for The Rainbow Company’s “The Land of the Dragon.” Second runner-up: Marchella Carey, for her fun in working big in National Actor’s Theatre’s “42nd St.” Third runner-up: Penni Mendez, for being able to come up with what was basically a one-costume show (for five bridesmaids) while having the audience never tire of what everyone was wearing, in Las Vegas Little Theatre’s November main stage mounting of Alan Ball’s “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.”
Marko Westwood’s playful and varied movement designs helped give Signature Productions’ “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” a liveliness that made it feel like a new musical. Expectations soared whenever someone was about to dance.
First runner-up: Jim Carey, for his ability to get the best from beginners and veterans alike in Musical Actors Theatre’s “42nd St.” Second runner-up: Keith Dotson for his bold, comical and appropriately maniacal work for Super Summer Theatre/P.S. Productions’ “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Third runner-up: Jim Carey for his Fosse-ish body jerks in Musical Actors Theatre’s August production of Dorothy Fields/Cy Coleman/Neil Simon’s 1966 “Sweet Charity” at the Summerlin Performing Arts Center.
To Greg Etchison, an excellent actor who performed too infrequently, and a local artist, who died this month at the age of 62 after a series of illnesses. He was at one time a lead performer for Caesars Magical Empire, and was celebrated for his annual turn as Scrooge in Lawry’s The Prime Rib restaurant’s tongue-in-cheek Christmas production. He was one of the best.