The seventeenth annual Storer Boone Awards, sometimes referred to as "the Boonies," were held last night at Le Chat Noir, the swank cabaret that has been the host for the awards ceremonies that honor local theatre for the past eight of those years. Le Chat's gracious hostess Barbara Motley and local actor Brian Peterson served as emcees. As expected, it was a night of revelry for many of the productions that had previously been hailed at the Big Easy Theatre Awards in March. Among the best of the most acknowledged productions were the controversial Stephen Sondheim musical "Assassins" and the gripping drama "Coyote on a Fence." Michael Aaron Santos, Anchie Joachim and Jason Kilpatrick repeated for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor in a Drama ("Coyote on a Fence"), respectively. This time out, Santos's wife, Ashley Ricord, won for Best Director of a Drama, making it a clean sweep for "Coyote." Ricord also picked up a "Boonie" for her InsideOut/NOLA Project role in "Sideman" as Best Actress in a Drama, making her a double winner of both Big Easy Theatre and Storer Boone Awards. It should be apparent that the young upstarts of Inside Out Productions and the NOLA Project, who began only a few short years ago, have little else to prove. They are at the pinnacle of success. It was Le Petit du Vieux Carre and the NOLA Project's "Assassins" that garnered most of the other big wins for the night. Jimmy Murphy and Lisa Picone won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for their roles in "Assassins" and A. J. Allegra won the nod as Best Director of a Musical. All three won Big Easy Awards last month. Of course, "Assassins" was given the nod for Best Musical outright. Other "Assassins" winners were Jefferson Turner as for Musical Director, Eli Grove and Kyle Herbert for Best Set Design, and Cecile Casey Covert for Best Costume Design. Another winner for the night was the Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre's production of "Rent" which garnered Best Lighting Design honors for Scott Sauber and Nancy Macko and Best Sound Design for Cliff Stromeyer. Other winners who reprised Big Easy wins were Meredith Long for Best Actress in a Musical ("Ruthless, The Musical"), Natalie Boyd for Best Actress in a Comedy ("Speech & Debate"), Aimee Hayes for Best Director of a Comedy ("Speech & Debate") and Karen Hebert for Best Choregraphy ("Cabaret"). The Best Comedy of 2008 was "Speech & Debate" and Ricky Graham and Sean Patterson's zany "Renew Revue" about recovery in a post-Katrina environment was given the award for Best Origianl Play. Other winners were Laura Jean Hoffpauir for Best Stage Manager and Alex Lemonier for Best Performance by a Child ("The History Boys"). "A Kingdom of Statues," another joint production of the NOLA Project and Le Petit du Vieux Carre won the award for Best Children's play. The big honors of the night were handed out to Deborah Bell as the Arthur Tong Unsung Hero Award and to local luminary Lyla Hay Owen as the 2009 Storer Boone Lifetime Achievement Award. There were two performances of note throughout the night. The first by Lisa Picone of "Surabaya Santa" from 2 Left Feet's production of "Songs for a New World" was absolutely hysterical. Picone was on top of her game. The second half opened with a rousing number from FourFront Productions' "Altar Boyz." This was timed fortuitously just prior to the reprise of that show opening soon at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre. What made this night special was that it was the New Orleans area theatre community coming together and voting for themselves. Unlike the Big Easy Awards, which are nominated by committees, the nominations and final votes for the Storer Boone Awards come from the rank and file of actors, actresses, directors, producers, technicians, stage managers, etc. They are tabulated online at Stageclick.com and in several cases this year some of the categories were decided by one vote. In some cases the winner's margin was only by two votes.