South Sound Critics award winners announced

By: AXS Contributor Aug 1, 2015
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The ballots have been returned and the winners are set to be revealed. The South Sound Critics 2014/15 theater season awards were released late Friday evening. The awards, six in total, cover the stage works from seven different theater operations on five South Puget Sound (loosely geographically defined) stages.

Tacoma Little Theater received the lion's share of the acting award nominations, having put together perhaps the most outstanding season in total. TLT was followed in the acting award nominee category by Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

"Children's Theater" is a term often used to describe theater somehow sub-par. Those who don't know better assume children's theater is, as the expression goes, "mailed in." Those doubters couldn't be more mistaken when it comes to the stages of the South Sound. TMP Family Theater (through Tacoma Musical Playhouse) and Lakewood Institute of Theater (out of Lakewood Playhouse) received well-deserved nominations in the field of youth-oriented theater.

The newest theater under the South Sound Critics umbrella scored two nominations this year. Bainbridge Performing Arts showed its stuff and turned out to be a competitive theater when awards season came around.

Acting award winners, though wildly varied in style, had one thing in common. Namely, the ability to transcend their own role and make everyone around them better on a given night. The Best Play award winners, both youth-oriented and general audience, gave the theater-goer more than can be expected from community theater. In other words, a transcendent experience of actor/theater-goer synergy of excellence.

South Sound theater is in good hands going forward. Many of the award winners took home the hardware by an exceedingly close margin of votes. The critics are rightfully excited about the season to come. Magic is afoot every time the lights go down.

The 2014/15 winners have set the bar. The 2015/16 season can be expected to do at least as well. And the winners are...

  • Best Play: "Cabaret"-Tacoma Little Theater
    In the best example of ensemble excellence seen this season, the South Sound award for best play goes to a production with plenty of aw
    Tacoma Little Theater (used by permission of Tacoma Little Theater)

    In the best example of ensemble excellence seen this season, the South Sound award for best play goes to a production with plenty of award nominations...and not one individual winner. Tacoma Little Theater produced a play bursting with energy, and fraught with timeliness even this many years after it was first seen on Broadway.

    "Cabaret" was the best night at the theater during the 2014/15 season. It was made so by a cast who put forth their best efforts night after night. It was made possible by the combined efforts of theater pros from all over the South Sound. It was made possible by prop staging which added to the emotional response, and occasionally created the response without any help from the actors.

    "Cabaret" achieved what theater productions all over the country strive to achieve. Namely, an experience which stays with the audience for days after the final curtain falls.

    Kudos to everyone who had a part in the stunning success that was Tacoma Little Theater's production of "Cabaret." It was a fine effort across the board, and well-deserving of the best play nod.

  • Best Actor: Rafe Wadleigh as Che in "Evita"-Tacoma Musical Playhouse
    In the closest vote on the South Sound Critics 2014/15 ballot, Rafe Wadleigh was a narrow winner for his sterling portrayal of the dissident
    Tacoma Musical Playhouse (used by permission of Tacoma Musical Playhouse

    In the closest vote on the South Sound Critics 2014/15 ballot, Rafe Wadleigh was a narrow winner for his sterling portrayal of the dissident "Che" in TMP's production of "Evita." Mr. Wadleigh combined a glowering stage presence with a wry sense of humor in giving breadth and depth to his character. Alena Menefee's excellent Evita needed Che as daytime's sunshine needs the dark of night.

    An actor at the top of his game stands out in the crowd. Theater-goers always knew when Che was on hand. Often enough without saying a word he made his presence, and his mood, known to the many hundreds who witnessed his every performance.

    Mr. Wadleigh narrated the action in Evita. But he did much more than narrate. He invited the audience to understand a confounding and confusing world of high-born politics and low-born ambition. Eva Peron was a larger than life character. Che helped make TMP's production of "Evita" just as large. 

    Honorable mention to Jeff Kingsbury as Ebenezer Scrooge in Tacoma Little Theater's "Scrooge: The Musical."

  • Best Actress: Deya Ozburn as Annie Sullivan in "The Miracle Worker"-Lakewood Playhouse
    Deya Ozburn is one of the most prolific theater professionals working today. Her resume' includes writing, producing and directing, in a
    Kare Paterno-Lick (used by permission of Kate Paterno-Lick and Lakewood Playhouse

    Deya Ozburn is one of the most prolific theater professionals working today. Her resume' includes writing, producing and directing, in addition to acting. The South Sound Critics are sure she is accomplished in all areas. But it was in the role of Annie Sullivan that her star shone like a comet during the 2014/15 season.

    Annie Sullivan came into the Keller household as a woman brought to stubborn fruition by the challenges she had faced already. Her perseverance, skill, communication ability, physical endurance, and occasional good humor would all be tested by Helen Keller and her family. Through it all she prevailed and her success with Helen lasted as a friendship and companionship until both had long left youth behind.

    It was said that Ms. Ozburn "played the daylights" out of the role of Annie Sullivan. But her professionalism allows her to give no less than a standout performance each time she steps on stage. Doubtless she will appear on a South Sound stage sometime in the 2015/16 season. Her fans will applaud wildly. Those who meet her for the first time will join in the acclaim.

  • Best Supporting Actor: Nelson Spickard as The Man in the Chair in "The Drowsy Chaperone" - Bainbridge Performing Arts
    If he had just been a man in a chair during "The Drowsy Chaperone" Nelson Spickard couldn't have been an award winner. But, as
    Bainbridge Performing Arts (used by permission of Bainbridge Performing Arts)

    If he had just been a man in a chair during "The Drowsy Chaperone" Nelson Spickard couldn't have been an award winner. But, as those who saw the show at Bainbridge Performing Arts' theater can attest, he was much more than that.

    Mr. Spickard sang, danced, and cracked wise as he carried the audience into the theater of his mind. He exhibited some of the best comic timing of the season, well worthy of a spot at a Seattle-area comedy club.

    "The Drowsy Chaperone" could have run off the rails and out of control. Nelson Spickard held it, just barely, in place. He was the glue in a fine performance.

  • Best Supporting Actress: Liberty Evans-Agnew as Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker"-Lakewood Playhouse
    "The Miracle Worker" is a challenging story to tell, and a challenging night at the theater for those who attend. The story of Hel
    Kate Paterno-Lick (used by permission of Kate Paterno-Lick and Lakewood Playhouse

    "The Miracle Worker" is a challenging story to tell, and a challenging night at the theater for those who attend. The story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan carries a lot of dark to go along with the light at the end. The main characters are required to expend a great deal of emotional energy. They are required to expend at least as much physical energy. Miss Keller was a troubled and fractious child, to say the very least. Ms. Sullivan was hard-bitten and stubborn enough to get through to the grievously challenged little girl. It's exhausting for all concerned.

    Liberty Evans-Agnew's main claim to theater fame before "The Miracle Worker" was as "Scout" in "To Kill a Mockingbird." Her stage presence and connection with her role and her audience was apparent even then. But it was as Helen Keller that this young actress came into her own, and at such a tender age.

    The trust she developed with Deya Ozburn came through to the audience. Stage combat, an art in itself, wasn't more realistically portrayed anywhere in the South Sound this theater season. These ladies tussled, perspired and strained with each other for the better part of two hours. It was a brilliant example of stage excellence.

  • Best Youth-Oriented Play: "A Year With Frog and Toad"-Lakewood Institute of Theater
    Those who attended the holiday season production of "A Year With Frog and Toad" expected a pleasant evening of theater aimed at th
    Kate Paterno-Lick (used by permission of Kate Paterno-Lick and Lakewood Playhouse)

    Those who attended the holiday season production of "A Year With Frog and Toad" expected a pleasant evening of theater aimed at the youngest and least sophisticated of theater-goers. It was supposed to be a diversion bracketed by shopping, wrapping, party invitations and Yule logs burning in the fireplace. Instead, those lucky enough to see the Lakewood Institute of Theater production of "A Year With Frog and Toad" experienced an evening full of magic and whimsy.

    What made "A Year With Frog and Toad" stand out? Coleman Hagerman, for one. His loose-limbed Frog was by turns stern, whimsical and affectionate toward Rachel Fitzgerald's Toad, who was a delight in her own right. Theater-goers who saw the play were invited to take note of Charles' Stevens interpretation of "Snail," as well.

    In a world where sports stadiums are filled with people ignoring the action, and those around them, to poke their noses in a smartphone, "A Year With Frog and Toad" is an entertaining reminder. Remember how important real life contact can be. Whether frog, toad, or even slow-moving snail, everyone can learn about friendship from this delightful group of characters. It was a great year!

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