Going into year five, the StarNews Wilmington Theater Awards ceremony takes place on Friday, Jan. 29, at 7:30 p.m. at Thalian Hall. It’s become the equivalent of the Tonys for Wilmington’s vast and ever-growing theater community, crowning the crème de la crème for Best Musical, Best Play, Best Actress and Best Actor (in both a play and musical), among more than a dozen other categories (23 to be exact). It will welcome one of the area’s most brazen talents as mistress of ceremonies, too: Mrs. Kendra Goehring-Garrett.
The evening marries a celebration of talent along with a slew of entertainment. Specifically, performers will do a song and dance from each of the five musicals nominated: Opera House Theatre Company’s “Chicago,” Cape Fear Theatre Arts’ “Hair,” Thalian Association’s “The Addams Family,” OHTC’s “Mary Poppins,” and City Stage Co.’s “The Rocky Horror Show.”
StarNews editor John Staton says they’ll present the category for Best Play differently than in previous years. “I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I’ll just say that Kendra has come up with a fun concept for how to stage it that I think will really give the plays their due this year,” he says. “Best Musical nominees, obviously, lend themselves to big song and dance numbers, but it’s tougher with a play to present a scene out of context from everything that’s built up to it. Kendra has found an intriguing way around that.”
No stranger to the stage, Goehring-Garrett has been a staple on the scene for many years and grew up idolizing veteran actors, directors and such since her youth. She’s also no stranger to the StarNews nominee list. In fact, the hostess was nominated for Best Choreography in 2015, and has seen her name on the ballot for Best Actress in a Musical every year since the awards show launched in 2012. This year she’s up for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Roxie Hart in “Chicago” and Best Actress in a Play for Raney in TheatreNOW’s “Raney.”
“Clearly, Kendra is one of the most talented people on the planet,” Staton hails. “She goes all-in on every role, and I knew she would bring that to the awards show. Plus, she’s directed before, and the host is essentially the director and star of the show.”
“I love being on this side of the table,” Goehring-Garrett adds. “It’s very creative. I will probably enjoy being a guest from here on out, mainly because it is a big job. But I’m truly enjoying the process right now. I’m soaking it all in, since it will be a one-time opportunity.”
Helping her along will be Amanda Hunter, who’s acting as musical director. Hunter also is up for Best Musical Director for Thalian Association’s “Singin’ in the Rain.” Together with Staton and StarNews editor Jeff Hidek, they’ve been planning the show in the midst of culling votes. Ballots closed in mid-December and received almost 4,000 votes from the public, which counts a third of the overall tabulation. Local theater companies get a third (around 20 ballots, according to Staton), and StarNews critics make up the remaining third.
“I think I’ve said this before, but what I often tend to remember and be impressed by [with local theatre productions] are specific moments or performances,” Staton tells. “Dallas LaFon’s lighting in ‘Hair’ was amazing and created these little tableaus that froze the performers and their emotions for a split second.”
LaFon has been nominated. Staton also remembers Josh Browner’s performance as supporting actor in UNCW’s student-run “MilkMilkLemonade.”
“Kristina Auten did a very good job directing, and she got some amazing work out of her actors,” Staton tells, even though the director isn’t nominated.
Opera House’s “Mary Poppins” received most nominations alongside new theater company Dram Tree Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” The play debuted in downtown’s nontraditional McEachern’s Warehouse last fall. “[It] was just a very well done show from top to bottom,” Staton explains. “‘Macbeth’ got a lot of support from the theater community at large, and deservedly so.”
Staton says the play category was much harder to narrow down than musicals. “If you think about it, there are only five companies or less doing a full season of musicals,” he explains. “With plays, there are just so many more of them that it made it tougher to narrow down the nominees.”
As is the case, numerous deserving productions didn’t make the list. It’s something that gives Staton guiltmares each year. “MilkMilkLemonade” (UNCW Student Lab), “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” (Big Dawg Productions), “The Miss Firecracker Contest” (Big Dawg), and “Titus Andronicus” (Browncoat Theatre) name only but a few. “It hurt me physically almost that they didn’t get more noms,” he says. “But there are only five spots per category, so there you have it.”
Staton starts the paring-down process each year by jotting down seven or eight possibilities within each category. The nominations are finalized according to support from theater companies, all of which turn in suggestions in early November.
As well, annually, the show recognizes a stalwart on the local scene with its Lifetime Achievement Award. For 2016 the award will go to six-time theater award nominee and local director and choreographer Judy Greenhut. “I have a fabulous performance for her,” Goehring-Garrett promises. Tributes to Greenhut will continue at the afterparty at YoSake, which will host karaoke and announce the winner of the Audience Award. The crowd will be able to cast their own votes for the best show at the awards.
The event will kick off at Thalian Hall, with a Land Rover Cape Fear red carpet arrival, on Friday at 6 p.m.