By Bill Hirschman
Joy and uncertainty imbued the 36th annual Carbonell Awards on Monday night, reflecting a period marked by the greatest concentration of theatrical excellence in recent memory, yet also the closure of two companies and tenuous survival of others.
The juxtaposition was no more evident than the Caldwell Theatre production, Stuff, earning three awards – four days after the company revealed it had hired a receiver and was postponing its last play of the season because of cash flow problems.
Still, the predominant mood was celebratory at the event nicknamed “theater prom” because of the collegial atmosphere and because most participants wear formal attire. Friends who had not seen each other in months embraced, showed off the gowns they had just bought and dished during the half-hour meet-and-greet in the plaza of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts before the show.
Although the theater community hates the competition attached to awards, few could miss the trend of the night: Productions by Palm Beach County theaters swept 13 of 20 awards.
Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production of All My Sons, which initiated its new home in downtown West Palm Beach last fall, dominated the straight play categories. The Arthur Miller tragedy about ethics and responsibility won the award for Production of a Play, Director J. Barry Lewis and leading actor Kenneth Tigar who played the troubled patriarch.
Producing Artistic Director and co-founder William Hayes, accepting for Tigar, joked, “I taught him everything he knows,” then added seriously, “He was truly a master class in acting on stage.”
One indication of the overall excellence throughout 2011 was that early last year, the Actors Playhouse production of August: Osage County was so impressive that many observers expected the family dysfunction drama would take every award it was nominated for. In fact, the Coral Gables production was shut out Monday.
At the north end of Palm Beach County, the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, which started out the evening with 25 nominations for three musicals (and one farce), scored seven competitive awards for its lushly-mounted productions. Just its edition of Crazy For You, loaded with tap dancing and Gershwin tunes, won Best Production of a Musical, the directing award for Mark Martino, the choreography honor for Shea Sullivan, a musical direction nod for Helen Gregory and the Actor in a Musical Award for Matt Loehr as the lovesick playboy. The ebullient Loehr, who literally leaped across the stage to get the award, is slated to play Harold Hill next season in the Maltz’s production of The Music Man.
But the Maltz took home an additional eighth honor. In a surprise that had not been previously announced, the Maltz received the Bill Von Maurer Award for Theatrical Excellence from the Carbonell trustees. The award was established in 2006 and named for the late theater journalist for the Miami News and South Florida Sun Sentinel. The award is given to the theater company that “exemplifies excellence for the totality of its programming: productions, educational outreach, developmental programs and audiences served.”
Producing Artistic Director Andrew Kato, who began his career as a waiter at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre, responded, “I’m speechless… You are fabulous.”
Until last year, some Maltz partisans said they felt a bit disconnected from the Carbonells because they were so far north of the other theaters and did not feel welcome. But that attitude has changed and the theater hosted the nominees party last month. About 60 Maltz staffers, artists and supporters cheered the cascading announcements of the winners.
Stuff, produced by the Caldwell in Boca Raton, won Best New Work for local playwright/actor Michael McKeever (an especially competitive category); Scenic Design for Tim Bennett’s stylish turn-of-the-century sitting room and its second act transformation into a pathological hoarder’s nightmare, and to Angie Radosh for Supporting Actress in A Play for her incisive turn as the manipulative yet genteel matriarch.
The abundance of award-worthy work led to some somber outcomes. Florida Stage, which dissolved last June because of financial woes and a disenchanted audience base, failed to take home any award despite having two nominations for its final production, The Cha-Cha of the Camel Spider. Similarly, The Promethean Theatre, which shut down barely a week ago, did not prevail despite five nominations for its campy summer musical Song of the Living Dead.
But Promethean co-founder Deborah Sherman could take some comfort in winning the Actress in A Play Award for her intermittently medicated bi-polar wife in Side Effects. The play was mounted by Mosaic Theatre in Plantation which also produced the winner of the Ensemble Award for The Irish Curse. Last year, Sherman won the Supporting Actress Award for her lactation consultant in Florida Stage’s Goldie, Max and Milk.
A tearful Sherman, who was played on by a band performing the theme song from “Valley of the Dolls,” gave equal credit to her acting partner Jim Ballard who played her husband. “It was a dance every night and we were up there together.”
She thanked director Richard Jay Simon for “giving me the part of a lifetime.” Referring to her own difficult childhood, Sherman also thanked her family for “growing up in a crazy household…. I really have to thank my family 110 percent.”
She acknowledged the closing of Promethean by saying, “We did good stuff, we did crappy stuff, we had some home runs.” Referring to the wearing economic pressures on small companies, she urged, “But we’re in a kind of sitch. So go see theater and pay for your tickets.”
Another repeat winner from last year was Jose M. Rivera whose colorful and witty costumes for the Maltz’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat earned a Carbonell this year, and won the same award last year for the outlandish design of Maltz’s La Cage aux Folles.
The other traditional musical theater powerhouse, Actors Playhouse, still scored two acting awards from its production of Hairspray. Avi Hoffman won the Supporting Actor in a Musical Award for his role as the adoring husband who does a dance duet with Edna Turnblad. Julie Kleiner took the Supporting Actress Award for her portrayal of the nerdy Penny Pingleton who defies her mother by pursuing an interracial love affair.
Hoffman noted that it took 15 years performing in Florida theaters for him to win one of the sculptures. But speaking to oft-honored actress wife Laura Turnbull on the audience, he said, “Now, we have a fourth bookend.” He also publicly teased Kato who hires many out-of-town actors (although Kato often notes that a large portion of his casts are local). “With all the New York actors, Andrew, you’re going to be eligible for a Tony,” Hoffman said.
Kleiner thanked several people including the costumers who worked around her early stage of pregnancy last October and also thanked her husband, “for giving me this big belly.”
Two other special awards, decided by the Carbonell trustees, were presented. Mary A. Becht, director of the Broward Cultural Division since 1984 and pioneer of a long list of arts and cultural milestones, received the Howard Kleinberg Award for contributions to the health and development of the arts in South Florida. Veteran producer and local theater philanthropist Jay H. Harris received the most prestigious honor, the George Abbott Award. Harris, a member of The League of American Theaters and Producers, served on the Carbonell board from 2001-2008, including two terms as president, during which time he was instrumental in rising the profile of the awards and designing its current voting structure.
Harris, who said he began his career in theater as an audience member, said, “South Florida theater is facing the same financial hardships as other regions.” He then asked anyone listening to contribute to local theater.
Net proceeds from ticket sales and donations fund scholarships recognize emerging talent among South Florida high school students who are continuing their education at the university level with a major in theater. Receiving the honor on stage Monday night were Rachel Brooks from Broward County, Christina Caperna of Palm Beach County and Krystal Ortiz of Miami-Dade County.
Awards were interspersed with performances from each of the nominees for best musical: April Woodall singing “Climb Every Mountain” from the Maltz’s The Sound of Music; Noah Levine (who wore bottomless pants) and the zombie cast of the Promethean’s Song of the Living Dead’s production number, “Gay For Jesus;” Gabrielle Visser singing “Fable,” from Broward Stage Door’s The Light in the Piazza; John Pinto Jr. performing “Close Every Door” from the Maltz’s Joseph; and Loehr performing a medley of “I Can’t Be Bothered Now/Nice Work If You Can Get It” from Crazy for You.
The show opened with a satirical number, “My Big Fat Carbonell,” written by Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria, and performed by Amy Miller Brennan, Ken Clement, Patti Gardner, Christopher A. Kent, Paul Louis, Celia Louise Merendi, Avery Sommers and Shane Tanner.
The musical numbers were accompanied by a band led by Caryl Fantel with Rupert Ziawinski and Roy Fantel
Amy London, Carbonell executive director, and McKeever co-produced and co-directed the event, which featured multi-media presentations including copious photographs of the nominated productions and performers.
The event at the Amaturo Theater also featured a tribute to the awards’ namesake, Manuel Carbonell, who died in November and who donated the egg-like sculptures. Economics forced the trustees to replace the statues with conventional awards for the past three years. But the Carbonell family, the board of trustees and Carbonell treasurer Donald Walters agreed this year to fund the casting of the valuable sculptures.
The awards show was followed by a reception at the Green Room in the Club Revolution complex in downtown Fort Lauderdale hosted by the South Florida Theatre League.
The following roster of nominees lists the winner in boldface.
–Brothers Beckett by David Michael Sirois (Alliance Theatre Lab)
–Captiva by Christopher Demos-Brown (Zoetic Stage)
–The Cha Cha of a Camel Spider by Carter W. Lewis (Florida Stage)
–Stuff by Michael McKeever (Caldwell Theatre Company)
Production of a Play
–All My Sons (Palm Beach Dramaworks)
–August: Osage County (Actors’ Playhouse on the Miracle Mile)
–Clybourne Park (Caldwell)
–The Pillowman (Infinite Abyss)
Director of a Play
–Joseph Adler, Red (GableStage)
–Jeffrey D. Holmes, The Pillowman, (Infinite Abyss)
–J. Barry Lewis, All My Sons (Dramaworks)
–Stuart Meltzer, Captiva (Zoetic)
–Richard Jay Simon, Side Effects (Mosaic Theatre Company)
Actor in a Play
–Ken Clement as Marley, Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol (Actors’ Playhouse)
–Avi Hoffman as Arthur Prsybyszewski, Superior Donuts (GableStage)
–Kenneth Tigar as Joe Keller, All My Sons (Dramaworks)
–Gregg Weiner as Mark Rothko, Red, (GableStage)
–Scott Douglas Wilson as Katurian, The Pillowman (Infinite Abyss)
Actress in a Play
–Kati Brazda as Maureen, The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Dramaworks)
–Elizabeth Dimon as Kate Keller, All My Sons (Dramaworks)
–Annette Miller as Violet, August: Osage County (Actors’ Playhouse)
–Deborah Sherman as Lindy, Side Effects (Mosaic)
–Laura Turnbull as Barbara, August: Osage County (Actors’ Playhouse)
Supporting Actor in a Play
–Antonio Amadeo as Ahmad Ahmadazai, The Cha Cha of a Camel Spider (Florida Stage)
–Marckenson Charles as Franco Wicks, Superior Donuts (GableStage)
–Mark Della Ventura as Doug, Brothers Beckett (Alliance)
–Ryan Didato as Ken, Red (GableStage)
–Todd Allen Durkin as Matthew, Captiva (Zoetic)
Supporting Actress in a Play
–Barbara Bradshaw as Mags, The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Dramaworks)
–Renata Eastlick as Number Two, Eclipsed (Women’s Theatre Project)
–Elvire Emmanuelle as Number Four, Eclipsed (Women’s Theatre Project)
–Angie Radosh as Susie Gage Frost Collyer, Stuff (Zoetic)
–Laura Turnbull as Marie, Lombardi (Mosaic)
Production of a Musical
–Crazy For You (Maltz Jupiter Theatre)
–Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Maltz)
–The Light in the Piazza (Broward Stage Door Theatre)
–Song of the Living Dead (Promethean Theatre Company)
–The Sound of Music (Maltz)
Director of a Musical
–Margaret M. Ledford, Song of the Living Dead (Promethean)
–Michael Leeds, The Light in the Piazza (Broward Stage Door)
–Mark Martino, Crazy For You (Maltz)
–Mark Martino, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Maltz)
–Marc Robin, The Sound of Music (Maltz)
Actor in a Musical
–Matt Loehr as Bobby, Crazy For You (Maltz)
–John Pinto Jr. as Joseph, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Maltz)
–Michael Sharon as Captain von Trapp, The Sound of Music (Maltz)
–Dylan Thompson as Fabrizio, The Light in the Piazza (Stage Door)
Actress in a Musical
–Colleen Amaya as Marian Paroo, The Music Man (Stage Door)
–Joline Mujica as Tracy Turnblad, Hairspray (Actors’ Playhouse)
–Vanessa Sonon as Polly, Crazy For You (Maltz)
–Gabrielle Visser as Margaret Johnson, The Light in the Piazza (Stage Door)
–Catherine Walker as Maria, The Sound of Music (Maltz)
Supporting Actor in a Musical
–Clay Cartland as Larry Hardman, Song of the Living Dead
–Michael Brian Dunn as Zangler, Crazy For You (Maltz)
–Avi Hoffman as Wilbur Turnblad, Hairspray (Actors’ Playhouse)
–Bruce Rebold as Signor Naccarelli, The Light in the Piazza (Stage Door)
–Ryan Williams as the Pharaoh, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Maltz)
Supporting Actress in a Musical
–Lara Hayhurst, as Clara, The Light in the Piazza (Stage Door)
–Julie Kleiner as Penny Pingleton, Hairspray (Actors’ Playhouse)
–Natalie Ramirez as Franca, The Light in the Piazza (Stage Door)
–Avery Sommers as Motormouth Maybelle, Hairspray (Actors’ Playhouse)
–April Woodall as the Mother Superior, The Sound of Music (Maltz)
–Helen Gregory, Crazy For You (Maltz Jupiter Theatre)
–David Nagy, Hairspray (Actors’ Playhouse)
–Kim Douglas Steiner, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Maltz)
–Garret Taylor, The Light in the Piazza (Stage Door)
–Aaron McAllister, The Sound of Music (Maltz)
–Chrissy Ardito, The Music Man (Stage Door)
–Chrissy Ardito, Song of the Living Dead (Promethean)
–Barbara Flaten, Hairspray (Actors’ Playhouse)
–Mark Martino, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Maltz)
–Shea Sullivan, Crazy For You (Maltz Jupiter Theatre)
–Michael Amico, All My Sons (Dramaworks)
–Tim Bennett, Stuff (Caldwell)
–Douglas Grinn, Lombardi (Mosaic)
–Sean McClelland, August: Osage County (Actors’ Playhouse)
–Michael Schweikardt, The Sound of Music (Maltz)
–Paul Black, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Maltz)
–John D. Hall, All My Sons (Dramaworks)
–Andrew Meyers, The Light in the Piazza (Stage Door)
–Jeff Quinn, Red (GableStage)
–Patrick Tennent, Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol (Actors’ Playhouse)
–Brian O’Keefe, All My Sons (Dramaworks)
–Jose M. Rivera, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Maltz)
–Ellis Tillman, Hairspray (Actors’ Playhouse)
–Ellis Tillman, In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play (GableStage)
–Ellis Tillman, Song of the Living Dead (Promethean)
–Victoria Deiorio, The 39 Steps (Maltz)
–Alexander Herrin, Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, (Actors’ Playhouse)
–Keith Kohrs, Crazy For You (Maltz)
–Marty Mets, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Maltz)
–Rich Szczublewski, All My Sons (Dramaworks)
–Brothers Beckett (Alliance)
–The Brothers Size (GableStage)
–Clybourne Park (Caldwell)
–The Irish Curse (Mosaic)