Branding the Best: Wilmington Theater Awards celebrate our local scene

Jan 21 • ARTSY SMARTSY, TheaterNo Comments on Branding the Best: Wilmington Theater Awards celebrate our local scene

Jeff Phillips will host the awards show. Photo from StarNews Media

Jeff Phillips will host the awards show. Photo from StarNews Media

Miss some of the top performances from the 2013 theater season in Wilmington? Well, this Thursday, the top contenders from the Wilmington Theater Awards will culminate once again to put on a performance for champions. Organized by StarNews’ publisher Bob Gruber, editor Jeff Hidek and features editor John Staton, the third annual ceremony gets underway on January 23rd at 8 p.m. at Thalian Hall. With help from Judy Greenhut, Tony Rivenbark, Opera House Theatre Company and master of ceremonies Mr. Jeff Phillips, the show won’t merely recognize the best on- and offstage. It will come with a large dose of laughter thanks to Pineapple-Shaped Lamps (a nominee as well), who will re-enact a few favorite scenes from local nominees, including “In the Next Room,” “Other Desert Cities,” “Sordid Lives,” “Venus in Furs,” and “William & Judith.”

“My personal favorite is our scene from ‘Venus In Furs,’” PSL member Holly Cole says. “I love it for this very silly ‘I see what you did there’ moment—the sort of joke that you’re thinking about and still laughing at two hours later. I love a good highbrow comedy.”

Like its sold-out 2012 and 2013 lineup, the Wilmington Theater Awards will feature live entertainment from the cast of the Best Musical nominees. On the bill will be performances of “Streetsinger” from City Stage’s “Brooklyn: The Musical”; “One Day More” from Opera House’s “Les Misérables”; “Camelot” from City Stage’s “Spamalot”; “Been a Long Day” from Thalian Association’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”; and “People Will Say We’re In Love” from Opera House’s “Oklahoma!” Lorene Walsh will direct the music.

StarNews theater critics and local companies helped decide upon the crème de la crème. Prerequisites consisted of shows that were staged between November 15th, 2012, to November 14th, 2014, ran for two weekends, and were reviewed by StarNews. Staton based his nominees on their long-lasting impact, whether emotionally connective or technically impressive.

“When a performance by an actor or a particular play or musical sticks with me for a long time, that’s always a good sign,” the critic says.

Such was the case with Nygel Robinson’s Curly in “Oklahoma!” Robinson had been cast in chorus roles mainly until Opera House took a chance on him for their summer show.

“He really took a great leap forward with that leading role,” Staton says. “He’s got an amazing voice, but beyond that he had such a great stage presence—self-assured, slightly cocky, but relaxed—and he shared some wonderfully emotional scenes with Kendra Goehring-Garrett as Laurey that still resonate with me.”

Let-downs often come with every awards season when certain shows don’t make the cut. Though Staton reviewed 43 productions last year, there were still a few he didn’t get to. “I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see ‘The Rocky Horror Show,’ The Great American Trailer Park Musical’ and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,’” he says (all of which scored four- and five-star reviews from encore).

The winners get determined through a break-down of votes, including one-third critics’ votes, one-third theater company votes and one-third public online voting. Voting closed to the public earlier in the month.

Quite a few changes will mark the 2014 event, including the presentation of every award. In previous years, StarNews has awarded technical winners (lighting, costuming, makeup, etc.) the morning of show day, only to recognize everyone en masse at the evening’s events. Staton says presenting every award won’t cut too deeply into the timing of the event. If all goes according to plan, the show will last two and a half hours with one intermission.

“In the past we’ve been worried about making sure it didn’t run over two hours, but this year Jeff and Alice Sherwood at Opera House have figured out a way to make it work without making the show incredibly long,” Staton says. “It’s better this way, I think, because now the acting, directing, technical and writing categories are all on equal footing.”

Likewise, players who have passed on within our community will be recognized in an “in memoriam” segment. Plans to highlight luminaries like nationally award-winning actor Pat Hingle and local thespian and arts supporter MC Erny are scheduled.
Every award is presented by representatives from theater companies and past award winners. Included is the lifetime achievement award, named the Lela Thompson Award for Enduring Contribution to Wilmington Theater. This year it will be given to Thalian Hall’s executive director and famed actor Tony Rivenbark.

“Lela Thompson is an amazing woman who, although she stepped down recently, has led the Willis Richardson Players since the 1970s,” Staton says.

The African-American theater company has worked with diverse casts and crews, and continues impacting local theater, much like Rivenbark. “Tony has done so much work in keeping [Thalian Hall] in good shape,” Staton says, “and thriving as a place for our local companies to play.”

The 2013 Lela Thompson award was given posthumously to Donn Ansell, not only for his endless support and work on the local scene but also because he helped organize the first Wilmington Theater Awards show. The show since has been set up to showcase the work of various theater companies annually.

“I knew we’d be working with Opera House this year, and Jeff, through his association with them by doing so many shows over the years, just seemed like a natural fit [as MC.] He’s got such a deep knowledge of not just local theater, but theater in general, and he’s a huge fan of awards shows. I had a feeling he’d bring something great to the table and he has not let me down! The opening number he’s come up this year will be something to see.”

The show will open with red-carpet events, including a photo booth, hosted by LandRover Cape Fear. The fun will continue after the ceremony at YoSake. Owner Justin Smith, who also acts locally and runs Cape Fear Theatre Arts LLC, hosted the 2012 awards show. Hosting an afterparty at his restaurant came naturally. “I imagine there will some pretty impressive karaoke given the collection of voices we’ll have over there,” Staton quips.

DETAILS:
Wilmington Theater Awards
Thurs., Jan 23rd, 8 p.m. • Tickets: $15
Thalian Hall • 310 Chestnut St.
www.ThalianHall.org

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