The 2015 Sappie Awards

I’m actually way later on this than I intended but life is busy and I’ve been enjoying the last several weeks away from the theatre.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m gearing up for a 2015-2016 season full court press but a few nights at home doing nothing hasn’t been the worst thing ever.

So like last year I’ve decided to make up some categories and recognize my favorites from the theatre season.  This is just one man’s opinion so please take it with a grain of salt.  If you disagree with any of my choices, great!  Start a blog and write about it!  And if you agree with everything I have written . . . well, that’s just creepy.

Here we go!

Chris Collins-Pisano as "Emmett" and Lawson Young as "Elle" in LEGALLY BLONDE
Chris Collins-Pisano as “Emmett” and Lawson Young as “Elle” in LEGALLY BLONDE

BEST MUSICAL: Legally Blonde, UC-CCM

Others considered (in alphabetical order:)
110 in the Shade, UC-CCM
Blood Brothers, UC-CCM
Elf, Broadway Across America
Hands on a Hardbody, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
Hot Mikado, Wright State University
Ragtime, Fairfield Summer Theatre

I struggled with this one a lot as I really loved all of the contenders.  HANDS ON A HARDBODY told a great story with inventive staging.  110 IN THE SHADE featured some of the best acting and direction all year, and HOT MIKADO was an unexpected surprise.  But ultimately it was Lawson Young (and Sarah Bishop – I saw them both) whose performance(s) as Elle Woods put this over the top.  Seeing their unique twists on the character demonstrated that whole was as good if not better than the sum of its parts.

 

Regina Pugh as Juliana Smithson and Kelly Mengelkoch as The Woman in THE OTHER PLACE / Photo by Ryan Kurtz
Regina Pugh as Juliana Smithson and Kelly Mengelkoch as The Woman in THE OTHER PLACE / Photo by Ryan Kurtz

BEST PLAY: The Other Place, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati

All New People, Untethered Theatre
August: Osage County, Clifton Players
Black Fly Spring, Xavier University
The Comedy of Errors, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Death and the Maiden, Diogenes Theatre Company
The Little Dog Laughed, New Edgecliff Theatre
Outside Mullingar, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
A Streetcar Named Desire, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

This was an exceptionally strong year for plays and I had another tough time settling on my choice.  The dark comedy of ALL NEW PEOPLE was a breath of fresh air.  BLACK FLY SPRING featured strong direction (by the star of THE OTHER PLACE ironically enough) and solid performances and one of the best sets of the year.  THE COMEDY OF ERRORS is the first time I walked away from Shakespeare understanding everything that occurred on stage and thought the comedy was tighter than it was silly.  And A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE was mesmerizing.  The tension in DEATH AND THE MAIDEN was palpable, but ultimately it was the story of Regina Pugh’s character and her chemistry with her long-suffering husband and estranged daughter that left me breathless.

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Ryan Garrett with the amazing Katie Langham in “Speech and Debate”

LEADING PERFORMANCE IN A PLAY: Katie Langham – Speech and Debate, UC-CCM
DeeDee Batteast – Raisin in the Sun, Ball State University
Sherman Fracher – The Birds, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Dale Hodges – August: Osage County, Clifton Players and Untethered Theatre
Kim Long – A Streetcar Named Desire, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts
Regina Pugh – The Other Place, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
Leah Strasser – Buckeye by Elizabeth Harris

While Kim Long totally nailed her performance in “Streetcar” and Dale Hodges anchored the huge ensemble of “August” it was Katie Langham’s tour de force performance in SPEECH AND DEBATE that made me a fan for life.   It is a shame the show only ran for such a limited time because had more people seen it, this actress would be a hot commodity.  So funny, but yet so full of honesty and heart.  I truly can’t praise her enough.

IMG_0101-XLSUPPORTING PERFORMANCE – PLAY: Maggie Lou Rader – A Streetcar Named Desire, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

Michael Bath, Death and the Maiden, Diogenes Theatre Company
Carol Brammer – August: Osage County, Clifton Players and Untethered Theatre Company
Daniel Britt – Any Given Monday, Mad Anthony Theatre Company
Giles Davies, Death and the Maiden, Diogenes Theatre Company
Piper Davis – Harry and the Thief, Know Theatre of Cincinnati
Kelly Mengelkoch – The Other Place, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
Simon Powell – In the Heat of the Night, Falcon Theatre
Alec Shaw, Buzzer, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park

Rader took this role and gave it depth, spunk, and a fresh perspective.  She’s quickly become one of my favorite actresses to watch. I enjoyed Giles physicality despite being restrained for most of the show a lot and Piper Davis as Harriet Tubman was perfect casting.  Mengelkoch and Shaw both had me on the edge of my seat in their respective performances but it was the unexpected greatness from the entire play – aided by Rader’s unique characterization – that puts her over the top.

10419975_10155377901710253_4535833995438562759_nLead Performance – Musical: Brianna Barnes – 110 in the Shade, UC-CCM
Jeremy Braley – Big, Hamilton Rotary Club
Charlie Clark – Hands on a Hardbody, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
Clara Cox – Peter Pan, UC-CCM
Justin Glaser – Sweeney Todd, The Carnegie
Sean Jones – The Hot Mikado, Wright State University
Kaela O’Connor – Ragtime, Fairfield Summer Theatre
Emma Stratton – Anything Goes, Broadway Across America
Lawson Young – Legally Blonde, UC-CCM

Mark my words, Brianna Barnes is a star in the making.  Truly a triple-threat, she can sing, dance, but most of all she can act.  She (and the lovely direction by Vince DeGeorge) forced me to return after intermission even though I wasn’t feeling well.  That’s talent.

West Side Story / Photo by Mikki Schnaffner
West Side Story / Photo by Mikki Schnaffner

Supporting Performance – Musical: Layan Elwanzani – West Side Story, The Carnegie
John Battagliese – 110 in the Shade, UC-CCM
Jasmine Easler – The Hot Mikado, Wright State University
Phil Fiorini – Hands on a Hardbody, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
Dallas Padoven – Hands on a Hardbody, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
Sara Mackie – Hands on a Hardbody, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
Derrick Jordan – Ragtime, Fairfield Summer Theatre

I think Layan Elwanzani’s performance left many wondering “who’s this girl and where did she come from?”  Alas, she’s graduated from WSU and moved to New York where hopefully she can wow audiences in the same way she did in West Side Story.

Company of HANDS ON A HARDBODY / Photos by Ryan Kurtz
Company of HANDS ON A HARDBODY / Photos by Ryan Kurtz

Ensemble Performance – Musical: The Cast of Hands on a Hardbody,  Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
The Cast of Blood Brothers, UC-CCM
The Cast of Cinderella, Broadway Across America
The Cast of The Hot Mikado, Wright State University
The Cast of Into the Woods, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts
The Cast of Murder Ballad, Stone on a Walk Theatre Company
The Cast of Ragtime, Fairfield Summer Theatre

Truly an ensemble-driven musical, this wonderful musical at Ensemble Theatre featured a very large cast with no weak links (even Jim Hopkins, who jumped into his role with a few hours notice was on point.)  All of the others listed deserve to be mentioned but Hardbody out did them all.

Christine Dye and Bob Allen
Christine Dye and Bob Allen

Ensemble Performance – Play: August: Osage County, Clifton Players and Untethered Theatre Company
All New People, Untethered Theatre Company
Black Fly Spring, Xavier University
Circle Mirror Transformation, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park
Death and The Maiden, Diogenes Theatre Company
In the Heat of the Night, Falcon Theatre
Little Women, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
The Comedy of Errors, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Meth: A love story, #theatrecompany
Occupational Pleasures, Homegrown Theatre Company
The Other Place, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
Outside Mullingar, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
A Raisin in the Sun, Ball State University
A Streetcar Named Desire, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

There were so many great plays this season but none more anticipated than August.  Maybe because everyone wondered just how they were going to pull off this grand-scale production in such a small space.  But this space is used to holding a lot of talent – and this ensemble was chock full of A-list actors.  A true “oh I gotta see that” production, for sure.

TAKING-SHAKE-production-2

Best Duo Performance: Jon Kovach and Joanna Leister in Taking Shakespeare, Human Race Theatre
Dale Hodges and Reggie Willis in Driving Miss Daisy. The Carnegie
Sola Thompson and Joysoline Smith in Dream Pill, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Maya Farhat and Griff Bludowrth in The Last Five Years, Xavier University
Cathy Springfield and Sherry McCamley in She’s Crazy: Mental Health and Other Myths
Susan Haefner and Michael Marotta in Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park

Two handers are risky; if one or the other (or potentially both) aren’t good then its hard to cover. Fortunately for all of the shows on this list, everyone was top-notch.  But none was better than the dynamic duo of Kovac and Leister – they made me care about Othello but even moreso made me care about the characters they inhabited.

Torie Wiggins
Torie Wiggins

Best Solo Performance: Torie Wiggins in Twilight, Los Angeles, 1992 – Diognese Theatre Company
Antoinette LaVecchia in I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti – Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park
Bruce Cromer in An Iliad – Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
Michael Hall in Zombie Logue – Hugo West Theatricals
David Levy – Eight Reindeer Monologues, Falcon Theatre
Corrine Mollenhoff in A Handmaid’s Tale – Know Theatre of Cincinnati
Leah Strasser – Eight Reindeer Monologues, Falcon Theatre
Kelsey Torstveit in Mouthy Bitch – Toss the Bonnet Productions

Torie Wiggins is a prolific actress; she works a lot and she gets a lot of different roles.  But she showed why she’s cast in such diverse parts in TWILIGHT.  She’s at her best when she’s all-in to a project and she gave 110% to her multiple roles in this mesmerizing docudrama.  This is the finest I’ve ever seen her. To beat out Cromer’s amazing turn in AN ILIAD is quite an accomplishment in its own right.

306534_3571564370290_453653920_nBest Director: Vince DeGeorge, 110 in the Shade, UC-CCM
Kevin Brunck, Big: The Musical, Hamilton Rotary Club Civic Theatre
Ryan Heinreich, Ragtime, Fairfield Summer Theatre
Greg Hellems, The Hot Mikado, Wright State University
Diane Lala, Legally Blonde, UC-CCM
D. Lynn Myers, Hands on a Hardbody, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
Blake Robison, The Music Man in Concert, Cincinnati Pops
Stephen Skiles, Spring Awakening, Xavier University
Matthew Wilson, Into the Woods, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

Brunck wrangled what seemed like a cast of thousands.  Heinrich reminded us that community theatre can be as grand as any other productions.  Hellems took an outdated script and gave it quirky new life.  But it was DeGeorge who staged such a beautiful piece with a limited budget, a black box, and the most talented young performers in the region that he gets the nod from me.

Jeremy Dubin
Jeremy Dubin

Best Director – Play: Jeremy Dubin – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Ed Cohen – In the Heat of the Night
Jared Doren – All New People
Patrick Flick – The Comedy of Errors
Richard Hess – Speech and Debate
Lindsay Augusta Mercer – Death and the Maiden
D. Lynn Myers – The Other Place
Greg Procaccino – A Streetcar Named Desire
Regina Pugh – Black Fly Spring
Ed Stern – Outside Mullingar
Tara Williams – Eight Reindeer Monologues

Dubin gets my vote because for the first time I watched one of Shakespeare’s plays, followed the action without any confusion, and never once felt sleepy or bored.  He instilled in these Xavier students the meaning of the words they were saying in a way that few can.  I walked away from this one hopeful that I might deepen my love for the Bard – and that Xavier will continue to show its promise as the city’s best new theatre program.

The Musical Theatre Class of 2015
The Musical Theatre Class of 2015

Favorite Non-Traditional Piece: CCM Senior Showcase
Awaited – Crossroads Community Church
Carols for a Cause – CCM Fndraiser
The Cast of the CCM Freshman Showcase, UC-CCM
Dream Pill – Freedom Center
It’s My Party: Patricia Linhart and Julie Spangler’s Faculty Concert
Perfect Harmony – a CCM cabaret
Saturday the 14th – Serials, Know Theatre
So In Tents – Serials 2, Know Theatre
Wyatt’s Bed – 16-year-old Isaiah Reaves first play

If at least a third of these just-graduated CCMers aren’t on Broadway or on a national tour within the next three years, then something is wrong.  Strong vocalists, amazing dancers, and all around some of the most driven performers we’ve seen in some time, they have all the tools to be successful.

And there you have it, my picks for the best of last season.  I saw a lot of theatre; I won’t be able to duplicate that this year nor am I going to try but it was so much fun running to the theatre 3-4 times a week.  Most importantly I got to connect with some great people and have made some great friends along the way.  If you made this list at all, then I consider you a star whether you “won” or not.

It looks to be a fantastic season coming up and I’m anticipating some stunning performances and glorious productions.  I hope you’ll venture out and see as much as you can and I hope you’ll follow my journey while I do the same.

See you at the theatre!