Curtain Rises Monday For Carbonells’ Theater Prom

carbonell_award_wht-bkg-300x213By Bill Hirschman

If the 38th annual Carbonell Awards honoring theatrical excellence in South Florida are considered a mirror by some, the nominations provide some interesting material for observers to chew over.

The awards will be handed out Monday night at what the theater community has nicknamed Theater Prom. But the 99 nominations for 34 shows seem to depict a very healthy year for musicals and a less impressive number of new works produced, quality notwithstanding.

But the excitement over the impending awards is at an unusually high pitch due to some very competitive categories, several newer companies in the running and a few shreds of controversy. For the first time in recent memory, the show hosted by the Broward Center for the Performing Arts is virtually sold out, although check with the box office to be certain. Theaters reportedly bringing in a considerable number of partisans to cheer on their champions.

Just announced are the recipients of the special awards to be presented including the prestigious George Abbott Award to Patrick Dupré Quigley, founder and artistic director of world-famous Grammy-nominated vocal ensemble Seraphic Fire of Miami Beach. Other awards include the Bill Hindman Award to the late actor Don McArt, to be accepted by his sister, Jan McArt, and the Ruth Foreman Award being given to GableStage, The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Public Theater and Tarell Alvin McCraney for McCraney’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.

To view a complete list of nominees and stats, click here.

The standout element this year is the large number of nominations honoring young and/or struggling companies like Slow Burn Theatre Company, an acclaimed young troupe in west Boca Raton; The Wick Theatre, the brand new source for mainstream musicals in Boca Raton; Theatre at Arts Garage in Delray Beach, Louis Tyrrell’s scaled back home for thoughtful theater; Alliance Theatre Lab, a scrappy company in Miami Lakes; Outré Theatre Company, a new group specializing in little seen works; Thinking Cap Theatre, a cutting-edge troupe moving into new venue this winter, and Island City Stage, a new company focused on works with a LGBT element.

Since 2010, Slow Burn has reflected its name – a small underfunded company slowly but steadily growing both its finances and its reputation. While its work like the recent Side Show and Into The Woods were acclaimed by audiences and critics, it has balanced its income and expenses carefully. As a result, its season opener last fall, next to normal, marked the first time the company mounted enough performances to be eligible for Carbonell consideration. This was done by playing part of its run in the Aventura Arts & Culture Center.

Slow Burn’s musical about a family coping with the mother’s bipolar disorder scored big with their first eligible work. Its 10 nominations were the most of any single musical production including best musical, best director for co-founder Patrick Fitzwater, best actor for co-founder Mathew Korinko, best supporting actor for Bruno Vida and Clay Cartland, best supporting actress for Anne Chamberlain, best musical direction Manny Schvartzman, scenic design Sean McClelland, lighting Lance Blank, and sound Rich Szczublewski.

Island City Stage, now in its second full season, hit gold dust this fall with The Timekeepers, Dan Clancy’s play about a Jewish watchmaker and a gay man forced to work together for their survival in a concentration camp.  The drama took six nominations, the most for any play, including for best production, best director for Michael Leeds, best actor Michael McKeever, lighting Preston Bircher, David Hart sound and Michael McClain who designed a claustrophobic work hut – arguably the finest set built inside the tiny Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale that hosts the company.

The Wick Theatre, which opened this fall in the expensively-refurbished site of the Caldwell Theatre Company, mounted two eligible shows that received praise, especially its debut production The Sound of Music which earned a best musical nod, Local actresses scored nominations in supporting roles, Lourelene Snedeker as the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music and Missy McArdle as the sassy inn manager in White Christmas.

Arts Garage, which opened in 2012, is a more modest operation than what Tyrrell created at Florida Stage, but the fare is very similar – thought-provoking, even quirky world premieres and works written in recent years. Among the Arts Garage works receiving nominations was Lungs, a two-character play about relationships which had no scenery and laser-focused on the vibrant performances of nominees Betsy Graver and Cliff Burgess with Tyrell being nominated as well. Similarly, Tyrrell gave the first professional production to Daniel Mate’s chamber musical The Longing and the Short of It, which was nominated as best musical, best ensemble and best supporting actress Elizabeth Dimon.

The fortunes of Alliance Theatre Lab have ebbed and flowed under two different names since 2001, and it has been recognized in recent years for new plays written by company members Mark Della Ventura and David Michael Sirois. But it scored a surprising success last year with Savage In Limbo, a 1984 existential play by John Patrick Shanley (Doubt) that looked at the struggles of 20-somethings searching for the meaning of life. It earned a nomination for best ensemble.

Thinking Cap Theatre, Nicole Stodard’s troupe that tends toward cutting-edge productions, also took a nomination for Stoddard and Chastity Collins’ costume design for a mashup of 17th Century dress seen through a punkish sensibility in The Rover. Outré’s much praised production of An Iliad, a one-man tour de force with Avi Hoffman, received a nod for Danny Butler’s sound design.

One sign of the strength in the season is that the judges nominated six nominees for best musical rather than the usual five: The Sound of Music at the Wick, In The Heights at Actors’ Playhouse, Ruthless at Actors Playhouse, The Longing and the Short Of It at Arts Garage, next to normal at Slow Burn and Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Maltz. The directors of each of them were nominated and most of them provided nominations for various cast members, designers and creative staff.

The best play nominations went to an equally strong field: A Raisin in the Sun at Palm Beach Dramaworks, Cock at GableStage, Fear Up Harsh at Zoetic Stage, The Lion In Winter at Dramaworks and The Timekeepers at Island City Stage.

Another issue is how much new work is being produced locally. Only two titles were nominated for five slots in the new work category: Christopher Demos-Brown’s Fear up Harsh, and Israel Horovitz’s Gloucester Blue at Arts Garage.

But some contend that the Carbonells were not necessarily an accurate bellweather because acclaimed productions were not considered. First, The Longing and the Short Of It may have been its first fully-mounted professional production and it may have been nominated for best musical, but Tyrrell agreed not to call it a world premiere so that the show would be attractive to a second production somewhere. Carbonell rules state that the production must be billed as a world premiere to be considered for best new work. Reportedly, the same problem has arisen for its recent production, Carter W. Lewis’ The Hummingbird Wars.

A second contender, Blow Me, Jessica Farr’s new surrealistic script at Mad Cat Theatre about fashion icon Isabella Blow, received wildly varied reactions but lead actress Erin Joy Schmidt received strong reviews. The work was not allowed to be considered in any category including best new work by the 12-member judge panel because the six nominators sent to the show (a pre-screening group) did not recommend it to be considered. The same occurred for a third play, a critically-acclaimed version of the drama Other Desert Cities at Actors Playhouse in Coral Gables.

Yet another clear trend was the continuing dominance of Palm Beach County as home to the most nominations with 62 nods, followed by Miami-Dade theaters with 28 nominations and Broward County theaters with 8 nominations. The Maltz earned the most nominations of any theater with 19, followed by Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables with 13 nominations.

Once again, several actors and designers have multiple nominations, in some cases competing against themselves. Colin McPhillamy is nominated as best actor as the title character in Exit the King at Palm Beach Dramaworks, as well as supporting actor as the tweedy inspector in Dial M for Murder at the Maltz.  Karen Stephens is nominated as best actress for her emotionally scarred vet in Fear Up Harsh and as supporting actress as the steely mother in Doubt at the Maltz.  Patti Gardner is nominated as actress as Roxie Hart in Chicago at Boca Raton Theatre Guild and supporting actress in for Sons of the Prophet at GableStage. Manny Schvartzman is nominated for musical director for next to normal and In The Heights. Mark Martino is nominated as director and choreographer for Annie.  Set designer Michael Amico is nominated for Dial M for Murder and The Lion in Winter at Dramaworks. Costumer Ellis Tillman is nominated for The Fox on the Fairway and Ruthless!, both at Actors’ Playhouse.

(Full disclosure: I am a Carbonell judge or nominator and have been for 15 years, but I have no advance knowledge who will win.)

The 38th Carbonell Awards will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 31 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.  Tickets are $25 with $20 tickets available for groups of 10 or more.  Tickets sold the day of the ceremony are $35. For any questions email rstockton@browardcenter.org or call (954) 468-3280, Monday– Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Show is nearly sold out so check availability.

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