By Bill Hirschman
The vast variety of theater so characteristic of South Florida’s diverse arts scene was underscored Monday night as excellence was honored in at the 37th annual Carbonell Awards.
At one end of the spectrum, Ruined, GableStage’s dark depiction of ordinary people struggling to survive an African civil war in the 21st Century, dominated the honors in the straight play categories, including a best actress statue for the popular veteran Lela Elam.
At the other end, the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s spirited version of The Music Man took five awards including best musical and the Maltz’s inventive re-imagining of the 1964 warhorse Hello, Dolly! accounted for three awards — shutting out Actors’ Playhouse’s critically-acclaimed production of the cutting edge musical next to normal.
For the complete list of winners, nominees and statistics, click here
The Carbonells, named after the sculptor whose egg-like statues are presented, are among the oldest surviving regional theater awards in the country. This year’s ceremony at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts was a bittersweet event in which nearly 100 nominations recognized three companies that closed in 2012 and five troupes mounting their first works in 2012.
Sadly, only one of the shuttered theaters, the Mosaic Theatre of Plantation, left its last Carbonell ceremony with an award: Matt Corey’s sound for the theater’s last production, The Birds. Corey told the crowd, “Mosaic, I already miss you.” He said to company founder Richard Jay Simon in the audience, “I will always be proud of what we did and that we were able to for so many years.”
Lynn Nottage’s riveting and excoriating Ruined was the most high-profile winner among plays, taking best production of a play, best director of a play for Joseph Adler who has at least eight previous wins, and best supporting actor to Robert Strain for his compassionate flawed poet.
In one of the most widely-predicted outcomes, Elam won the best actress in a play honor for the role of her career: her courageous and indomitable brothel owner. Elam won the statue five years ago for her performance in GableStage’s In The Continuum.
Through a cracking voice, Elam who has gone public about her battle with Lupus said, “First of all I want to thank God for letting me have the strength to do this.”
She said, “Oh, I’ve wanted another one of these for so long.” Then she laughed. “I just figured they’d look better as a set.”
When the play took the top award, Adler insisted the entire cast and crew come up on stage, a clutch of people who grabbed each other in a group hug.
But numerically, the Maltz was the theater most needing a van to cart home its haul with nine awards, not unexpected since it led the pack with 23 nominations for Music Man, Dolly and Cabaret.
Matt Loehr, the ebullient song and dance man scored the rare accomplishment of winning both categories he was nominated in: best supporting actor for his shy swain Cornelius Hackl in Hello, Dolly! and for his leading role as con man Harold Hill in The Music Man. Near the end of the ceremony, he performed Hill’s patter come-on “Ya Got Trouble” to an audience of theater pros who instinctively filled in the chorus’ part of the call and response finale. Loehr, currently appearing in New York in The Book of Mormon, won the best actor award in 2011 for his affable playboy turned performer in the Maltz’s Crazy For You.
Loehr said when accepting the supporting role award, “This is overwhelming. This was the greatest dream come true in my life.”
Despite stiff competition, Tom Wahl took home the best actor in a play statue for Zoetic Stage’s one-man marathon I Am My Own Wife. Wahl portrayed not just Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a transvestite who survived the Nazis and Communists in East Berlin, but about three dozen other characters in the play.
Another tight field was best actress in a musical as demonstrated by three of the nominees who performed songs from the shows that got them there. But it was Vicki Lewis who dug deeply into the emotional truth of Dolly Levi that not only made audiences forget Carol Channing but won her the Carbonell.
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, who was in Denver helming the premiere of a musical version of Sense & Sensibility, won the musical directing Carbonell for her work on Dolly. Critics and patrons enthusiastically embraced her fresh overhaul, reconceived down to having Dolly enter the Harmonia Gardens in a bright green gown rather than the traditional fire engine red.
Angie Radosh, who won the best supporting actress in a play award last year, took the same award for her work as the pragmatic landlady in the Maltz’s musical Cabaret.
The best new work award went to Michael McKeever’s Moscow mounted by Zoetic Stage, a Miami-based company he co-founded. The comedy-drama examined a wide range of themes including race relations through the prism of a Miami family around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The playwright/actor has won the award four times before: for Stuff in 2011, Melt in 2008, Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors in 2004 and The Garden of Hannah List in 1998.
The best scenic design went to Michael Amico for his lovely dilapidated boathouse overgrown with foliage in Palm Beach Dramaworks’ Talley’s Folly. Amico has often been nominated but never won for his detailed sets at Dramaworks, notable for his attention to props and set dressing. He was unable to attend the ceremonies, but he said Friday that he had been collecting ideas for the scenery for many years. Dramaworks’ Producing Artistic Director William Hayes said, accepting the award, “He’s been a Godsend He’s not here because we’ve burned him out.”
Another award greeted with whoops from the audience was when Margaret M. Ledford won the best lighting design award for her work on Turn of the Screw which she also directed for the tiny company Naked Stage. This marked Ledford’s first major foray into lighting and she won universal plaudits for the highly atmospheric vibe and enoroaching sense of dread essential to the show’s success.
The Carbonells have been a bellwether night for the ebb-and-flow fortunes of the theatrical community. A few hours before last year’s edition, the Caldwell Theatre management was evicted and locked out of its home. But Costume World owner Marilynn Wick announced Thursday that she will open a new producing theater on the Caldwell site this fall.
In addition to the performing awards, the Carbonell Board of Trustees voted to present two of its five annual special recognitions. The George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in The Arts, recognizing a significant contribution to the artistic and cultural development of the region, was given to Mario Ernesto Sanchez, founder and producing artistic director of Teatro Avante and the International Hispanic Theatre Festival of Miami.
Sanchez is an actor, director, producer, and playwright who augments his theater work with roles in film and television. He founded Teatro Avante in 1979 with the goal to preserve Hispanic cultural heritage. The group has represented the
United States at festivals around the world. Teatro Avante also has performed in New York, Buffalo, Winston-Salem, El Paso, Albuquerque, Los Angeles and across South Florida.
In his acceptance speech, Sanchez spoke passionately about the importance of Hispanic theater and the arts in general: “Miami is not a cultural desert anymore.” But he also quipped, “You know what happens when they give you a life achievement award. So I went to the Cleveland Clinic for a complete physical.”
Actors’ Equity Association received the Ruth Foreman Award, named after the pioneering director and producer. The honor recognizes contributions to South Florida theater development by an individual or group.
The union, which represents nearly 700 professional stage actors and stage managers in the region, celebrates its 100th anniversary this spring.
Melissa Robinette, Eastern Regional Vice President, responded, “In countless ways, the professionals who join with audiences nationwide to create each singular live stage experience have contributed to and influenced our culture and lives significantly over the past century. We are honored to accept the Ruth Foreman Award in recognition of the role we have played in elevating South Florida’s respect for the craft of acting and stage management and in turn, contributing to greater appreciation for the power and impact of live professional theatre.
The Bill Hindman, Howard Kleinberg and Bill Von Maurer Awards were not given out this year.
Along with recognizing excellence, a key part of the Carbonells’ mission is to encourage a new generation of theater professionals and journalists. Toward that end, the program handed out $1,000 scholarships Monday to: Sammi-Jack Martincak of New World School of the Arts in Miami-Dade County; Christian Frost of J.P. Taravella High School in Broward County, and Jade Zaroff of West Boca Community High School in Palm Beach County.
The procession of awards was augmented with performances from some of the nominated musicals and performances including Lewis who roused the audience with an impassioned “Before the Parade Passes By,” Kate Shindle, nominated for her performance as Sally Bowles, who dug into the guts of the title song from Cabaret; Jodie Langel, nominated for her turn as a bipolar mother in Actors’ Playhouse’s next to normal, sang the heart-breaking “I Miss the Mountains;” and Wayne LeGette, nominated for his soul-curdled performer in the Theatre at Arts Garage’s Cabaret Verboten performed “The Stock Exchange Song.”
As usual, the ceremony nicknamed Theater Prom was preceded by an hour of theater professionals dressed in gowns and tuxes, greeting old acquaintances they hadn’t seen in months, trading gossip about their last show, offering news of their next gigs and bemoaning the competitive aspect of the awards. Media outlets including Iris Acker of BCON TV and Neil Hecker of WPBT interviewed nominees in the forecourt of the theater. For the first time in recent memory, the Amaturo Theater was nearly sold out.
Attendees were also invited to be photographed in bed before the show that had been placed in the lobby. The South Florida Theatre League sponsored the stunt to kick off its awareness-raising campaign “Get in Bed with the Arts.” On Thursdays through Aug. 31, the bed will make appearances at some of the member theaters whose names appear on the skirt of the bed. The interviews and photos will be posted on the South Florida Theatre League’s website (www.southfloridatheatre.com/).
The ceremony was underwritten this year by the South Florida Cultural Consortium , Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Actors’ Equity Association, Dr. Margaret and Mike Eidson, Rita and Jerry Cohen, designel, Don Walters, Kerry and Scott Shiller, South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, producer Ann Kelly, patrons Mary Ellen and Michael Peyton, playwright Tony Finstrom, producer Neil Goldberg’s Dream Foundation & Cirque Dreams, Esslinger Wooten Maxwell (EWM) Realty, Broadway Across America, Broward Cultural Division, ArtServe, Palm Beach County Cultural Division and the South Florida Theatre League.
The ceremony was followed by an after-party sponsored by the South Florida Theatre League.
The Carbonell Awards were created in 1975 by a group of South Florida critics to encourage excellence in regional theater as well as national tour companies’ productions. As the number of theaters grew across the three counties, the work load grew and the number of full-time critics seeing all the shows in the region shrank. The judging panel was expanded in 1992 to include theater professionals and knowledgeable civilians. Evolving and reorganizing over the years, it has become one of the premiere regional theater honors along with Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Awards and the recently defunct Helen Hayes Awards in Washington, D.C.
Initially called the Theatre Circle Awards and later the South Florida Variety Awards, the honors were renamed in 1978 for Manuel Carbonell, an internationally renowned Miami-based sculptor who designed and donated the solid bronze and marble egg-shaped statues.
For the complete list of winners, nominees and statistics, click here