Newcomers Share Carbonell Bounty With Major Companies

For the complete list of winners, click here

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Best Actor Carbonell winner Michael McKeever, left, with Mike Westrich and Matt Stabile in Island City Stage’s production of The Timekeepers, which won six awardsMonday at the Carbonells including best play.

By Bill Hirschman

The Timekeepers, a harrowing Holocaust drama mounted on a tiny stage in a tiny venue by a company only in its second season, swept six of its six nominations including best play at the 38th Carbonell Awards Monday night.

Those wins, along with a best director award for the fledgling Slow Burn Theatre Company’s musical next to normal, was greeted as a sign that young theaters could make inroads in an awards program often dominated by a handful of venerable and well-funded troupes.

Some of the finest established companies who had put on acclaimed seasons reaped few statuettes: Maltz Jupiter Theatre only took home a choreography award for Thoroughly Modern Millie and GableStage only won a special award for the Herculean effort of producing Antony & Cleopatra.

For the first time in recent memory, the ceremony honoring excellence in professional theater in South Florida was virtually sold out at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Theaters reportedly brought in a considerable number of partisans to cheer on their champions. Part of it, many observers agreed, reflected the large number of nominations honoring young and/or struggling companies like Slow Burn of Boca Raton, the new The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton, Theatre at Arts Garage in Delray Beach, Alliance Theatre Lab in Miami Gardens, Outré Theatre Company in Boca and Thinking Cap Theatre in Fort Lauderdale.

But the most obvious winner among the new kids on the block was Island City Stage, an underfunded LGBT-centric theater operating out of the tiny Empire Stage next to train tracks in Fort Lauderdale. Its deeply moving The Timekeepers was local playwright Dan Clancy’s script about a Jewish watchmaker and a homosexual making a life-saving connection in a concentration camp,

The production also captured the best director award for Associate Artistic Director Michael Leeds, a best actor in a play award for Michael McKeever as the chary watchmaker, a lighting award for Preston Bircher, a sound award for David Hart and, notably, the best set design statuette to Michael McClain. McClain envisioned a claustrophobic workshed enclosed by barbed wire, appropriately created in an acting space smaller than most people’s living rooms.

Still, true to past form, five musical awards went to powerhouse company Actors Playhouse at the Miracle Mile. Three recognized the rousing Latino-flavored rap-inflected In The Heights including best musical, best actor Nick Duckart as the lively Dominican narrator Usnavi and musical direction to Emmanuel Schvartzman. It’s two other awards rewarded performances in the wicked show business satire Ruthless!: Amy Miller Brennan for best actress and Gabriel Zenone as best supporting actor (although he played the role in drag of a shark-like talent agent).

But Slow Burn, which entered the night with the most nominations at ten, won the loudest and most sustained applause of the night upon the awarding of its only statuette, best director to Patrick Fitzwater for the rock musical next to normal. This was the first year of eligibility for the company that previously limited its performance schedule to control expenses.

A tearful Fitzwater thanked an array of people including co-founder Matthew Korinko. With a choked laugh, he said, “We came out here with a dream to do shows that no one else would do and that no one would come to see in Boca Raton. Now we’re selling 400 tickets a night,” The theater, which performs in a high school auditorium on the edge of the Everglades, specializes in challenging musicals that many patrons have ever seen or even heard of like Side Show and Parade, but its reputation for quality has won over an audience ranging from young people to senior citizens.
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Another newcomer, The Wick Theatre, in its maiden season in a renovated building once occupied by the Caldwell Theatre, can brag it claimed one Carbonell its first time out: Lourelene Snedeker who played the Mother Superior in The Wick’s debut offering, The Sound of Music, won best supporting actress in a musical. About a half-hour after receiving the award, Snedeker showed why by nearly bringing down the house with her stirring rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”

Judging by the applause, among the most popular choices was the best actress award given to Karen Stephens for her physically and emotionally wounded veteran in Zoetic Stage’s Fear Up Harsh and the best new work award to the play’s author, Christopher Demos-Brown.

Stephens danced to the stage and took a twirl in ecstasy before coming to the podium. “Wow! I feel like I’m in a dream right now.” Stephens has been nominated three other times in the past 20 years and lost three years ago despite a universally acclaimed performance in Bridge and Tunnel. That made her reluctant to be optimistic “because I thought I shot my wad,” she told the crowd. “As (the category) got closer, I said, girl, you’re going to do it again: you’re going to get your heart broken.”

Zoetic, the three-year-old company based in the Adrienne Arsht Center, also scored two awards for its production of Zach Braff’s comedy All New People:  a best supporting actor nod to Todd Allen Durkin and the best ensemble award to Durkin, Betsy Graver, Amy McKenna and Nicholas Richberg directed by Stuart Meltzer.

It was a night of mostly locally-based talent winning recognition and the crowd roared its approval in wave after wave. Many appreciated the sentiments of Brennan, who played a housewife-turned-Broadway-diva, as she clutched her egg-shaped award and said, “This is way cooler than I imagined when I was looking in my rear view mirror and practicing.” Earlier in the evening, she, too, showed the talent that won the award by stopping the show cold alongside co-star Julia Dale with a bravura comedy rendition of her character’s big number “It Can Never Be That Way Again.”

Duckart was kidded over the sound system by announcer Dave Corey for his extensive thank you speech which acknowledged everyone from his supportive family to Schvartzman for making “a kid who never rapped before seem like he knew was he was doing.”

Angie Radosh won a best supporting actress in a play award for her loyal queen helping her husband cope with death in Palm Beach Dramaworks’ Exit The King. The veteran actress, who won a supporting actress in a musical award for Cabaret last year, told the crowd, “When I say I’m speechless, I really am.” Citing how difficult the absurdist Ionesco script was to perform, she said, “No matter how old you get, it’s still scary.”

The competition in some categories was very tight in what the theatrical community hates to deem a competition. All five best play nominees were unusually strong. Judges needed six rather than five slots for the musical nominees although handicappers saw it as Actors Playhouse’s In The Heights up against Slow Burn Theatre’s next to normal.

In The Heights, a look at the Washington Heights barrio on a sweltering and life-changing few days, was a stunning production with a huge talented cast, massive set, sizeable band and breath-taking choreography. Some people carped that it was very similar to the Broadway original; others lauded the extensive expertise needed to pull it off at such as high level. Audiences and critics praised a vibrancy and energy that eclipsed even the road show that toured though the region.

next to normal, the rock musical about a bi-polar suburban mother was applauded not only for the skill needed to make the story accessible and moving, but the ability to make the story as much about the fallout on the family as it was about the mother. Four of its six cast members and most of its creative team were nominated for awards, although only Fitzwater won.

While Palm Beach County had been home to the most nominations before the program began, Miami-Dade was the base for the most awards with 9, followed by Broward’s 6 (all for The Timekeepers) and 5 in Palm Beach County.

Three annual special awards were 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, accepted by his sister, Jan McArt, and the Ruth Foreman Award given to GableStage, The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Public Theater and Tarell Alvin McCraney for McCraney’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.

Between awards, the show offered entertainment including performances from the six nominated musicals, accompanied by a band led by musical director Caryl Fantel. Each number brought the evening to a standstill including cast members of In The Heights performing a medley; the cast of next to normal performing “Light;” nominee Elizabeth Dimon performing “Starting Shit with You” from The Longing and the Short of It mounted at Arts Garage; and Broadway star and nominee Burke Moses performing the patter song, “The Speed Test” from Thoroughly Modern Millie at Maltz Jupiter Theatre.

“Theater Prom” was bittersweet this year: Durkin and Graver were married Sunday.  Broward Stage Door co-founder David R. Torres died on Sunday. The Carbonell show paid tribute to Torres, McArt and two beloved members of the community who also died in the previous 12 months: actor Jerry Gulledge and director-producer-arts administrator Barry Steinman.

The awards and its administration, which have been evolving over the past two years, was not without some controversy. Although some omissions among the nominations always spark second guessing, a segment of the theatrical community was outraged last year when nominators did not even pass on Actors Playhouse’s production of the drama Other Desert Cities and Mad Cat Theatre Company’s Blow Me for consideration by the judges who actually vote for the award.

Another issue is how much new work is being produced locally. Only two titles were nominated for five potential slots in the new work category. But 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 Artistic Director Louis 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.

One of the reasons behind the awards ceremony and the organization itself are scholarships awarded to South Florida high school seniors pursuing college education in the performing arts and/or journalism. The recipients announced at Monday’s ceremony were:  Eliana Meyerowitz of Boca Raton Community High School, Taryn Nobil of Western High School in Broward County and Gabrielle Perez of Coral Reef High School in Miami-Dade County.

The ceremony was produced by Michael McKeever and directed by Stuart Meltzer.

This year’s ceremony was supported by the South Florida Cultural Consortium, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.  Additional supporters include Actors’ Equity Association, Dr. Margaret and Mike Eidson, Rita and Jerry Cohen, Kerry and Scott Shiller, South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, Mary Ellen and Michael Peyton, Tony Finstrom, Neil Goldberg Dream Foundation & Cirque Dreams, Broadway Across America, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, and the South Florida Theatre League.

For the complete list of winners, click here.

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