Monday, March 30, 2009

Big Easy Award Winners

"Assassins" supporting actor winner Jimmy Murphy congratulates "Coyote on a Fence" supporting actress winner Angie Joachim.

Well, I am back from the 21st annual Big Easy Theatre Awards and I couldn't be more pleased with the way the show came off. One little hiccup, though. Sean Patterson, the host slated to fly down from New York's flight was cancelled due to weather-related delays and so he never did make it down for the awards show. To his credit he was on the phone yucking it up with co-host Gary Rucker, the very erudite and refined bad boy of FourFront Productions. Rucker decided to invite members of the audience to an open audition to be Sean Patterson. It was an inspired bit of comedic genius among much last night. Throughout the night the attendees, who wore the swankiest of formal gowns and garb were treated to performances from many of those nominated in the musical fields. So who were the big winners? Well, everyone really. The theatre community in New Orleans is one of the most cohesive and talented groups across the nation. I would stack many of our actors, singers and dancers up against those in the better-known entertainment capitals of the world including New York, Las Vegas and Hollywood. For best drama the runaway winner was InSideOut Productions' "Coyote on a Fence," which garnered top awards for best actor (Michael Aaron Santos), best supporting actor (Jason Kirkpatrick), best supporting actress (Angie Joachim), and best drama. Santos's wife and co-producer Ashley Ricord did not win for best director (she lost out to Actor's Theatre of New Orleans's Rene J. Piazza), but she did manage to pick up a best actress in a drama nod for her riveting performance in "Side Man" in which she starred opposite her husband. That was a co-production with the NOLA Project, which was the other big winner of the night for Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins." Jimmy Murphy picked up the best supporting actor in a musical for his portrayal of John Wilkes Booth, while Lisa Piccone, a recovering breast cancer victim, was positively radiant and robust as she won best supporting actress in a musical for her quirky Sara Jane Moore. The NOLA Project's own very young and very talented A. J. Allegra won the best director of a musical award for "Assassins" beating out Butch Caire for his "Miss Saigon" and Sonny Borey and Derek Franklin, late of Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, for their "Rent" and "Cabaret." Borey and Franklin didn't go away empty handed. They did pick up the best musical of the year for "Cabaret" and were given credit for best choreography (Leo Jones, Wanda Rouzan and Beverly Trask) as well as best costume design (the potty-mouthed Roy Haylock). A surprising pick for best musical director was Jim Walpole for his inspired work in "Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story," a co-production of Marigny Theatre and To Do Productions. Walpole credited Marigny Theatre's own Donnie Jay, who is in the hospital fighting for his life with a brain tumor at this moment. Walpole recalled how he lost his father during this production and credited Jay with keeping him grounded during that turbulent time in his life. Cecile Casey Covert, the very talented costume designer, was not nominated this year, but it was also announced that she was also infirm at present and everyone was asked to keep her in their prayers throughout the coming days. Two actors, Sean Knapp for "Speech and Debate" (best supporting actor in a comedy) and Christopher Woods for "Rent" (best actor in a musical) were unable to pick up their awards due to the fact that they could not enter the building. Harrah's has strict controls in place to prevent underage gamblers from access to their casino. The rest of the winners were scattered among several different production companies with notable nods to Southern Repertory for their comedies "Speech and Debate" (best director Aimee Hayes) and "The Seafarer" (best actor in a comedy Mark Maclaughlin). Although he did not win for his best supporting actor in a comedy nominated role in "The Seafarer," where he played the devil, Jim Fitzmorris did win a best original work for theatre Big Easy Award for his campy "What, Has This Thing Appeared Again Tonight?," a co-production with the NOLA Project and Tulane's Shakespeare Festival. Speaking of universities, David Hoover picked up a best university production honor for his direction of "Metamorphoses," performed at the University of New Orleans and featuring a full swimming pool on stage. Jeff Becker won his first set design award for "Flight," a co-production of ArtSpot Productions and Mondo Bizarro, while Scott Sauber and Nancy Macko competed against themselves and two other lighting designers, winning for Le Petit's "Rent." A surprise win for best actress in a musical was registered by Meredith Long for her powerful voice in "Ruthless! The Musical." She beat out previous winners Liz Argus and Jessie Terrebonne and brilliant newcomer Idella Johnson whose work in "Pal Joey," "Cabaret," and "Rent," respectively, were all spectacular. Dorian Rush, who has been nominated for a Big Easy Award since her work in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," finally picked up a best supporting actress in a comedy and she was practically giddy about it. I am proud to say that Amy Alvarez won for her scintillating work with Jefferson Turner in "He Loves and She Loves: The Gershwin We Love," the first Big Easy Award in the new cabaret category. Special awards to the New Orleans Fringe Fest, who are preparing their sophomoric presentations later this year, and to Bryan Batt, star of stage and screen and currently seen in AMC's "Mad Men" were also made in addition to a well-deserved tribute to Al Shea, who has been on local TV screens and involved in theatre as a reviewer for decades. All in all, it was a very nice night for New Orleans theatre and one that producer Gloria Powers and Margo and Clancy Dubos from Gambit Weekly can be justly proud.

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