Here are your 2012 True West Award Winners

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By John Moore
Dec. 23, 2012

A diverse year on Colorado stages is reflected in the winners of CultureWest.Org’s 2012 True West Awards, with Curious’ red-hot art drama “Red,” the Arvada Center’s irresistible “Legally Blonde” and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s precision farce “Noises Off” winning for best drama, musical and comedy.

And the more some things change, the more some things stay the same. That’s the happy case for Curious Theatre, which only stages contemporary plays that are new to Denver. This year’s five offerings, book-ended by war plays and distinguished by a raucous collaboration with Colorado Springs TheatreWorks on a comedy looking into the real (fake) world of professional wrestling, earned Curious its seventh “best year by a company” designation in the 12 years of these awards, formerly known as the Ovation Awards.

In all, 18 companies won at least one True West Award. Curious leads the way with eight, including best actor and supporting actor awards for the only two members of its “Red” cast, Lawrence Hecht and Benjamin Bonenfant. The Colorado Shakespeare Festival was next with four.

It was previously announced that Boulder Ensemble Company co-founder Stephen Weitz has been named the 2012 True West Awards Theatre Person of the Year. Read more about that here.

Once again, readers were invited to weigh in to help determine their “reader’s choice” selections for 10 select categories. And in the two biggest, they chose Ben Dicke — director, producer and star of his own production of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” — as theater person of the year; and the Arvada Center for best season by a company. The survey accepted only one response per computer I.P. address, and, in all, 1,282 voted.

A note on the True West Awards
All True West Award winners are determined by former Denver Post theater critic John Moore. Winners were chosen from among the nearly 100 productions seen anywhere in Colorado 2012. Here is the complete list of nominees and eligible shows. Once again, the best of the Denver Center Theatre Company was determined in separate categories  that are listed at the end of the following results.
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Theater person of the year: Stephen Weitz, who founded the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company in 2006 with his wife, Rebecca Remaly, performed in five plays in 2012, directed three others and oversaw the Denver Center Theatre Company’s high-profile, community-wide staged reading of Dustin Lance Black’s “8,” a re-enactment of the federal trial that overturned California’s controversial Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage. Read our full story on Stephen Weitz here.

Readers’ choice voting (based on 1,282 reader responses):

  1. Ben Dicke, 23.7 percent
  2. Stephen Weitz, 19 percent
  3. Brian Freeland and Eden Lane, 14.3 percent

Best year by a company:
Curious Theatre Company

  • “9 Circles”
  • “Becky Shaw”
  • “Red”
  • “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”
  • “Time Stands Still”

Readers’ choice:

  1. Arvada Center,  31.6 percent
  2. Curious Theatre, 26.3 percent
  3. Lake Dillon Theatre Company, 16 percent

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Best year by an actor (minimum three roles):
Jim Hunt: Boulder Ensemble’s “The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde”; Lake Dillon’s “Sylvia”; Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Noises Off”; Vintage’s “Becky’s New Car”; Backstage’s “A Christmas Carol”

Everyone should be as busy at age 69 as the affable Jim Hunt. This remarkably versatile veteran actor not only performed in five plays this year, he was employed by five different companies. Hunt, who worked alongside Nick Nolte at Greeley’s Little Theatre of the Rockies back in 1964, this year played a pervy academic, a bungling British actor, a dog-lover in the throes of a mid-life crisis, a wealthy car dealer and an iconic Scrooge humbugging in a land populated by life-sized puppets. While Hunt is now at an age when many of his contemporaries have earned the right to slow down, Hunt is out there reaching new heights and plumbing new depths with a cheerful sprightliness.

Readers’ choice:

  1. Brett Ambler, 27.6 percent
  2. Jim Hunt, 21.3 percent
  3. Benjamin Bonenfant, 19.1 percent

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Best year by an actress 
(Minimum three roles):
Rachel Fowler: Curious Theatre’s “Becky Shaw”; Local Theatre’s “Elijah: An Adventure”; Arvada Center/Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Twelfth Night”; Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Noises Off”

Rachel Fowler came to Denver in 2005 to log an award-winning performance in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s “All My Sons,” and that has been to the good fortune of Curious Theatre, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and several other local companies that have since benefited from her diverse repertoire. After her gut-scraping turn as a mother whose son has died in Curious’ “Rabbit Hole,” Fowler returned this year to play a wife whose questionable matchmaking skills go horribly awry in “Becky Shaw.” In the Arvada Center’s co-production of “Twelfth Night” with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Fowler fought against the comedy to bring real heartbreak to the role of Olivia, who pines for a boy she knows not is a woman. And she surprised again in Local Theatre’s world premiere of “Elijah: An Adventure,” as a 1922 Paris widow who proves to be far more complex than a mere grieving cougar. Fowler is the rare actor who stands both naked and strong on the stage at once, whether clothed or not.

Readers’ choice:

  1. Billie McBride, 38.1 percent
  2. Rachel Fowler, 27.5 percent

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Best drama:
Curious Theatre’s “Red”

When I saw “Red” on Broadway, I initially thought this was not so much a great play as a great oral argument,  the latest brilliant if didactic playwriting pontification on the compromises and contradictions of life as a tortured artist – however celebrated. The writing device was obvious: Put a fresh-faced student in the constant company of the great Mark Rothko, and let the famously self-absorbed abstract expressionist rant and rave on and on about a key transition in art history – that tipping point in the mid-1950s when Rothko’s generation, after having helped destroy surrealism and cubism, was now being superseded by the emergence of Andy Warhol and other pop-culture art revolutionaries. In the loving hands of director Christy Montour-Larson, this two-year dialogue between Rothko and his student came alive in unexpected ways, ebbing and flowing like brush strokes on a canvas, the actors infusing John Logan’s words with passionate and intelligent inspiration.

Readers’ choice:

  1. Curious Theatre’s “Red,” 33.8 percent
  2. Senior Housing Options’ “Driving Miss Daisy,” 28.2 percent
  3. Curious Theatre’s “Time Stands Still,” 24 percent

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Best musical:
Arvada Center’s “Legally Blonde”

In a year that left the best-musical field uncharacteristically wide open, this was the effort that remains vibrant, clever and — dare I say meaningful? — in my mind,  long after it has closed.  Smartly directed by Gavin Mayer, this effort was aided by a clever set design from Brian Mallgrave, costumes from red-hot Mondo Guerra and choreography from Kitty Skillman-Hilsabeck that by gave the storytelling a mile-a-minute pulse. A bi-coastal musical that plays out in a cramped dorm room, a men’s clothing store and in a courtroom has no business working on stage, but there is a giddy brilliance throughout this musical filled with surprisingly meaningful moments. Despite recent headlines about an Ohio high-school drama teacher who was fired for staging “Legally Blonde,” this is a girl-power musical the Arvada Center didn’t merely bleach over.

Readers’ choice:

  1. Arvada Center’s “Legally Blonde,” 32.6 percent
  2. Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s “42nd Street,” 29.3 percent
  3. Town Hall Arts Center’s “The Who’s Tommy,” 23.5 percent

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Best comedy:
Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Noises Off”

Even though I didn’t feel I ever needed to see Michael Frayn’s tirelessly crafted, three (long) act British farce ever again, I am glad I did. Lynne Collins’ (near) perfectly cast production, staged inside on the University of Colorado mainstage theater, lives on in an era when new stage comedies rarely exceed 30 minutes anymore. Thirty years later, “Noises Off” just keeps coming, with a staging directed by Nick Sugar slated for the Lone Tree Arts Center in January, and a production by Fort Collins’ OpenStage opening in March.

Best new work:
Buntport Theater’s “Tommy Lee Jones Goes to Opera Alone,” written by ensemble

From Westword’s Juliet Wittman: “Part of Buntport’s mission is to make art transparent. There’s no attempt at illusion or concealment: All the transitions and manipulations happen right in front of your eyes. ‘Tommy Lee Jones’ is, among other things, a meditation on the process of creation, the relationship between artist and audience, and the fact that a great work of art changes over time and is therefore never finished.”

Best actor in a drama:
Lawrence Hecht, Curious Theatre’s “Red”

The former head of acting instruction at the Denver Center’s late National Theatre Conservatory simply put on an acting clinic as the overbearing Mark Rothko. By turns muscular and bullying, Hecht berated audiences and scene partner Benjamin Bonenfant alike with a barrage of references spanning Yeats to Nietzsche to Shakespeare to Aeschylus. But the play’s master stroke is in how the two roles, as they must, eventually reverse. Only here, the teacher doesn’t so much become the student. Instead, the student comes to the epiphany that his teacher has become artistic roadkill. From Lisa Kennedy, The Denver Post: “Hecht anchors ‘Red,’ capturing in his girth, his slouch, his high-minded riffs and low moods, the pained, necessary undertaking of the artist.”

Readers’ choice:

  1. Lawrence Hecht, Curious Theatre’s “Red,” 38.7 percent
  2. Michael Morgan, Curious Theatre’s “Time Stands Still,” 25.4 percent
  3. Dan O’Neill, LIDA Project’s “Auto-da-Fé,” 12.8 percent

Best actress in a drama:
Anne Oberbroeckling, Abster Productions’ “August: Osage County”

This was an acting challenge fraught with potential perils. In taking on only the most daunting female character written for the stage since Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — and for the first time by any local actress — Anne Oberbroeckling resisted the urge to merely imitate the brutally incisive portrayals you may have been lucky enough to see astonishingly delivered by Tony-winner Deanna Dunagan on Broadway, or by Estelle Parsons on the national touring production. Performing in the stiflingly intimate little Dairy Center, Oberbroeckling choose slow poison over the more venomous, quick-strike approach. In a role that also requires physical and verbal reactions to booze and pills like wobbling and slurring, Oberbroeckling delivered an unexpected performance that began with unsettling casualness and yet still left  everyone in her path just as cold and dead as if she had wielded a sledge hammer.

Readers’ choice:

  1. Rhonda Brown, LIDA Project’s “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” 33.9 percent
  2. Anne Oberbroeckling, Abster Productions’ “August: Osage County,” 25.2 percent
  3. Rachel Fowler, Curious Theatre’s “Becky Shaw,” 18.6 percent

Best actor in a musical:
Joshua Blanchard, Lake Dillon’s ”Kiss of the Spider-Woman”

Jailed on a trumped-up buggery charge and now being kept as a hapless prison pawn for a Machiavellian warden, Blanchard managed to capture both the horror of an inhumane incarceration along with the unbridled joy of movie escapism. His Molina recounts his fantastic love affair with a movie actress whose signature role was the embodiment of death. Here, her lethal kiss doubles as the savory sip of life.

Readers’ choice:

  1. Brian Norber, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone,” 36.4 percent
  2. Joshua Blanchard, Lake Dillon’s ”Kiss of the Spider-Woman,” 26.7 percent

Best actress in a musical:
Megan Van De Hey, Little Theatre of the Rockies’ “Next to Normal”

This multiple-award-winning actress returned to her alma mater at the University of Northern Colorado last summer, in effect to lend credibility and heft to a pared-down student production of this harrowing musical that recounts a bi-polar mom’s two-decade struggle with depression. I’m sure her castmates grew by leaps and bounds in Van De Hey’s  presence. But then again, anyone who saw her performance enjoyed a little clinic on just how this acting thing is done.

Reader’s choice:

  1. Brooke Singer, Ignite Theatre’s “Spring Awakening,” 28.2 percent
  2. Kathi Wood, Kathi Wood, Phamaly Theatre Company’s “The Little Shop of Horrors,” 22.4 percent

Best actor in a comic role:
Brian Colonna, Buntport’s “The Roast Beef Situation”

Colonna was at his blithesome best in this original period comedy that recounts the (sort of) true story of a British clown named Carlo Delpini, who was thrown in jail in 1787 for uttering the words “roast beef” on a stage without any music playing in the background. Seriously. But in this case,  jail became merely a playground for Colonna’s physical gifts.  From Westword’s Juliet Wittman: “In an inspired piece of mime, Colonna  demonstrates a comic bit in which he raises his right leg and uses it like a gun — not very effectively — and Erin Rollman promptly shows how it should be done, finishing with a loud and convincing gunshot. Colonna’s highly physical description of a traditional Punch and Judy show is also terrific.”

Best actress in a comic role:
Annie Dwyer, Heritage Square Music Hall season

For more than 20 years, there simply has not been a more consistently reliable funny woman on Denver stages than Annie Dwyer. And she is beloved by her longtime audiences accordingly. Maybe that has something to do with Dwyer’s long struggle with rheumatoid arthritis through more nearly 90 mainstage shows. But attributing her enduring popularity to that alone would do a disservice to Dwyer’s innate ability to make people laugh, whether playing a dim-bulbed gangster moll, a predatory sex villain or sending up pop-culture celebrities ranging from Cher to Mama Cass. She’s a true, one-of-a-kind Denver original.

Best supporting actor in a drama:
Benjamin Bonenfant, Curious Theatre’s “Red”

For a play that belonged from the start to Larry Hecht’s Mark Rothko, the fresh-faced Benjamin Bonenfant ultimately manages to wrest full possession of the proceedings the moment he utters the clarion line, “Not everyone wants art that actually hurts!” For a kid who just graduated from college in Colorado Springs, you might say Bonenfant is on a roll, having made his debuts this year on both the Curious Theatre and Denver Center stages. From Westword’s Juliet Wittman: “The self-effacing innocence Ben Bonenfant brings to the role of Ken makes the entire production sing, and the moment when he finds his voice is pure exhilaration.”

Best supporting actress in a drama:
Devon James, Curious Theatre Company’s “Time Stands Still”

There are just four characters in Donald Margulies’ contemporary story about a damaged couple of journalists just home from the Iraq war. And as Curious’ staging began, I was sure one of them would not survive the first scene. It was Devon James’ unsubtly named Mandy Bloom, a ditzy young blonde bimbo who is initially presented to us as the magazine editor’s prized possession of his cliched midlife crisis. You’re sure there is nowhere for this character to go. But thanks to James’ nuanced portrayal, greatly enhanced by her pairing with David Russell, the guileless Mandy comes to represent the real prize that so often eludes the cynical and jaded among us: That of the chosen, happy life.

Best supporting actor in a musical:
Seth Caikowski, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone”

As a skunked-haired Latin lothario, Caikowski was this production’s shot of comic adrenaline. Caikowski is a naturally gifted and self-effacing physical comedian who turns his every turn of phrase or body limb into a laugh line. From Kateri McRae of the He Said/She Said Critiques: “Caikowski managed to take a character just as two-dimensional and flat as the others in (the source musical), and turn it into a cramp-inducing character who combined the best of both Hank Azaria and Pepe Le Pew.” Added McRae’s writing partner, David Cates: “Caikowski’s performance is the funniest thing I have seen in the longest time and damn near stole the entire show. His wig. His accent. His perfectly precise physicality. Every element of his performance was pure brilliance.”

Best supporting actress in a musical:
Mercedes Perez, Lake Dillon’s ”Kiss of the Spider-Woman”

This longtime local favorite is the real deal, with three big-time Broadway credits to her name. While she brought nothing fancy to her portrayal of the weary mother of a gay, imprisoned son, she brought more than enough: Aching, honest and natural pain — no to mention the voice of an angel.

Best supporting actor in a comic role:
Geoff Kent, Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Noises Off”

He’s nationally recognized as a certified fight choreographer, but Geoff Kent has been honing his acting craft for years with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and Denver Center Theatre Company. He’s a natural comedian, as he showed in high-profile Colorado Shakes stagings of  “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)” and “The Taming of the Shrew.” It all paid off for him here playing both deadpan British actor Garry Lejeune and the fictional lothario character Garry plays in a disastrous show-within-a show called “Nothing On.” Kent’s scene partner was Jamie Ann Romero as a ditzy actress playing what the Boulder Daily Camera’s Liza Williams hailed as “a glorious homage to dumb.” As Garry tries to react to the unplanned spontaneous combustion taking place on-stage all around him, Romero’s Brooke Ashton is utterly incapable of going off-script. These scenes between Kent and Romero are all you need to know why “Noises Off” is still considered the greatest farce of the past 30 years. Added Williams of Kent’s performance: “I stopped being able to breathe because I was laughing so hard at some of his bits.”

Best supporting actress in a comic role:
Leslie O’Carroll, Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Noises Off”

Carol Burnett is a treasure. But if all you know of “Noises Off” is her performance as Dotty Otley in the lousy film version, you have no idea how funny funny can be. If you saw O’Carroll play Dotty in Boulder, you know what we know: That sardines have never been so funny. The New York Times once called the character of Dotty a thankless role — that of the actress who, while playing a hapless maid, can never quite keep track of the sardines. But Dotty is a very important woman, The Times wrote. “Without Dotty, and without a real-life actress playing her to the hilt, ‘Noises Off’ couldn’t rise to the heights.” In Boulder, thanks to O’Carroll’s comic precision, it rose to the top of the Flatirons.

Best ensemble in a play:
Buntport Theater’s “Tommy Lee Jones Goes to Opera Alone”

OK, so we’ve all enjoyed unexpected celebrity sightings. But only the Buntport Theater ensemble could turn an accidental spying of a solo Tommy Lee Jones standing in line for the Santa Fe Opera’s “La Bohème” into a full-length play — one with a life-sized puppet portraying Jones. Though mostly a monologue delivered by the puppet Jones, along with some occasional interaction with a diner waitress, you had to see Colorado’s most collaborative ensemble in fluid action to fully appreciate the stage grace they put on display here. While Hannah Duggan played the waitress, the puppeted Jones was brought to life by Erin Rollman (left hand), Evan Weissman (right hand) and Brian Colonna (head), with Erik Edborg sitting in full view voicing Jones’ words. It was amazing enough to see the puppet opening his pocket watch, eating a piece of pie, drinking coffee and rolling his eyes. But the ensemble’s coordinated communication of Jones’ signature stoic emotion was the kind of thing you can only expect from an ensemble that has been working together, side by side, for 11 years.

Best ensemble in a musical:
Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone”

The definition of a great ensemble is malleable. But in a musical, surely it must mean that all the parts work well together, without a weak link from the largest role down to the smallest. “Chaperone”  is an odd little musical in that the lead actor never really sings. But Brian Norber brought real truth and heft to the role of the so-called “Man in Chair,” an endearingly reclusive fan of trifling  Broadway musicals of the 1920s. Thanks to the magic needle on his turntable, the man’s favorite musical comes to life right there in his apartment. Down the line, Norber is well-supported. The show allowed for a plethora of spotlight-stealing scenes from a deep cast that included Alicia Dunfee as the tipsy (hence the title) chaperone, Seth Caikowski as a Latin lothario, Katie Ulrich as gymnastic bride Janet, and longtime BDT producer Michael J. Duran making  his return to the stage after a five-year absence by playing half of a vaudevillian baker-gangster team (alongside Wayne Kennedy).

Best director of a play:
Edith Weiss, Phamaly Theatre Company’s “Vox Phamilia: Cinco de Vox”

Whatever it says in the  playbook about what the duties of a director are, they can’t begin to encompass all that it must take Edith Weiss each year not only to cast a company of mostly novice handicapped actors, but also to train them in the difficult art of sketch comedy writing, as well as how to effectively perform it. For five years, Weiss’ annual sketch-comedy evenings have been the greatest form of theatrical escape for actors and audiences alike — they allow a group of handicapped actors to perform – by being themselves.

Best director of a musical:
Christopher Alleman, Lake Dillon Theatre Company, “Kiss of the Spider-Woman”

On the tiniest of playing spaces, Alleman managed to capture both the claustrophobia of  prison and the expansiveness of a Broadway musical by striking just the right tone of fantasy and fatalism. Alleman didn’t dwell so much on the geographic location of the story. Instead he used his deep ensemble to create an anywhere — and everywhere — account of political imprisonment. Whether by necessity or artistic choice, he ditched the live portrayal of the almost laughably written prison-warden character in favor of an ominous, unseen voice that breathed new, evil life into this manifestation of authoritarian power.

Best musical direction:
Donna Debreceni, Town Hall Arts Center’s “The Who’s Tommy”

To watch Debreceni conduct her live band to this quintessential, old-school concept rock album … Well, let’s just say you’d have to be a deaf, dumb and blind kid not to feel the complete, pure joy of it. Come to think of it, even if you were …

Best choreography:
Tracy Warren, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s “42nd Street”

Let’s face it: People come to see “42nd Street” for the tap dancing. It’s no easy task both doing justice to Gower Champion’s signature choreography while also bringing new life to it, but Warren, who doubles as endearing gal-pal Anytime Annie in this staging, pulls it off. From Liza Williams of the Boulder Dairy Camera: “These early dance sequences demonstrated that the cast of this show has a high degree of technical achievement. The choreography was precise and complex and really highlighted BDT’s consistency in technical achievement, performance and overall production level.” As the song says, come and meet those dancing feet: You still can, as it runs through Feb. 16. 303-449-6000

Best use of multimedia:
Brian Freeland, LIDA Project’s “Add it Up”

Simply put, Freeland continues to change the game of theatrical storytelling by always upping the stakes with new multimedia innovations. His company’s “Add it Up,” an experimental freakout adaptation of Elmer Rice’s “The Adding Machine,” actually told the story of a condemned everyman we follow into the afterlife fairly faithfully. But Freeland’s unnerving intermingling of multiple live cameras projected onto angled, flowing bedsheets injected a haunting feeling into this telling that felt sort of like an alternate-universe “The Wizard of Oz.”

Best scenic design:
Peter J. Hughes, Drew Kowalkowski, Jeff Jesmer, Erika Kae and Katie Dawson, Abster Productions’ “August: Osage County”

I don’t now whether or why it really took five people to design this tri-level house that somehow fell  just into place in the decidedly “not tall” Dairy Center for the Arts. But the design not only worked, the team managed to (appropriately) turn the Weston staircase itself into one of the most menacing characters in the entire family. And in this family, that’s saying something.

Best costume design:
Ann Piano, TheatreWorks/Curious’ “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”

One look at the professional wrestler Chad Deity’s skin-tight shorts adorned with gold dollar signs told you that fun was the order of the day for this most unusual and entertaining production. Expert opinion from award-winning costumer Kevin Copenhaver: “Ann’s work is funky and fresh, and the challenge of outfitting this piece had to have been a great one. Always good to step outside the box — or the ring.”

Best sound design:
Brian Freeland, TheatreWorks/Curious’ “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”

It’s futile to try to separate Freeland’s fist-pumping sound effects with his pulsing video and live-feed story enhancement. It all worked together to help create the feeling that you were not sitting in a staid theater but rather in a stadium attending a live sporting event.

Best lighting design:
Shannon McKinney, Curious Theatre’s “Red”
Thanks to McKinney’s moody effects, red was not the only color of the evening. Her work on this show has now swept every award available to it so far — an amazing testament considering the hundreds of theatrical options this year.

BEST OF THE DENVER CENTER THEATRE COMPANY
(Note: I did not get to see the following DCTC productions this year:  “Two Things You Don’t talk About at Dinner,”  “Fences,” “Taming of the Shrew” and “Ring of Fire”)

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Best year by an actor (Minimum three roles):
John Hutton: “Two Things You Don’t Talk About at Dinner,” “The Great Wall Story,” “The Three Musketeers,” “When We Are Married”

Hutton has proven there’s nothing he can’t (or won’t) do on a stage, but he’s been liberated in recent years from primarily playing dour, heavy roles such as the doomed father in “The Diary of Anne Frank” (to name one — of dozens). But since letting his hair down as Oberon in “a “Midsummer” a few years back, Hutton seems to be having much more fun. Whether playing the prototypically cynical yellow journalist Joseph Pulitzer (hey, why is it that journalism’s highest honors are named after him again?) to the unexpectedly unmarried silly fop of a Brit in “When We Are Married,” Hutton is really settling into his role as the company’s current, undisputed veteran leading man. Only, to our benefit, he’s hardly settling at all.

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Best year by an actress 
(Minimum three roles):
Kathleen McCall: “Heartbreak House,” “Taming of the Shrew,” “When We Are Married”

2012 was the year when everything came together for McCall, with just the right marriage of material and sensibilities. McCall got to show off at least three shades of comic grey in three very different but very endearing kinds of comedies.

Best production:
“The Giver”

“Heartbreak House” was just what the DCTC does best: A witty and weighty George Bernard Shaw parlor comedy. But “The Giver” gets the nod for the seeds it sowed for future generations of Denver Center audiences. At the performance I attended, the kids all had read Lois Lowry’s controversial book. They remained in rapt attention throughout the brief performance. And not only did many of them have salient discussion points to raise in the talkback afterward, many expressed controversial opinions about what the ending meant. This production proves once again that no one but no one gets the kind of effective performances out of child actors that director Christy Montour-Larson does.

Best new play:
Denver Center Theatre Company’s “The Whale,” by Samuel D. Hunter

It takes courage to stage the world premiere of a story that features a dying, 500-pound protagonist, but that courage was rewarded with perhaps the most compelling  storytelling of 2012. The metaphor may be obvious — he’s a beached whale, this morbidly obese man who yearns to re-connect with his bratty daughter before he dies. That daughter character is the play’s downfall, but the sweet, sad protagonist and his loving relationships with his nurse and a Mormon stranger give the play real girth. Hunter’s play is further evidence that most every decent play is, in some way, a variation on “Moby Dick” — that pursuit of the one unattainable thing that might make our lives complete.

Best actor in a play:
Timothy McCracken, “The Giver”

McCracken was simply the most unnervingly sweet and paternal baby-killer you could ever hope to (not) run into … on stage or off. From Lisa Kennedy, The Denver Post: “McCracken gives a nice and therefore troubling turn as Jonas’ father. He has a gentle sing-song befitting his role as ‘Nurturer.’ And he appears boldly kind when he brings home a baby he names Gabriel and whom he hopes to protect from being released. And yet…”

Best supporting actor in a play:
Cory Michael Smith, “The Whale”

This is definitely the Mormon Age in the American theater, but Smith eschewed stereotype in playing the unlikely young missionary who appears on the front door of a home-bound man in the final few days of his life. Smith’s Elder Thomas becomes a surprisingly willing confidante to Charlie for reasons that get more compelling as the story goes along. I don’t mind telling you that Smith’s portrayal of the is-he-or-isn’t-he? Mormon prosthelytizer was my favorite performance by any actor in 2012. He had his role down to every muscle twitch, and so I was happy to see him hired to play the same role when the play was retooled by a new creative team for off-Broadway.

Best actress in a play:
Lise Bruneau, “Heartbreak House”

The company newcomer was here for a just a blink, but in her short time here playing Hesione, the decidedly bohemian daughter of a salty octogenarian, Bruneau made it plain that she is a sharp and ebullient actor who commanded the stage with twinkle and a smile.

Best supporting actress in a play:
Angela Reed, “The Whale”

Reed walked away with this award for her ferocious and loving work as a nurse with an undying loyalty to a dying patient. The Colorado native will be back next month starring in the national touring production of “War Horse.”

2012 SPECIAL ACCOMPLISHMENT TRUE WEST AWARDS:

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  • Bud Coleman: The chair of the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Theatre & Dance Department staged a remarkable production of “14” at the Kennedy Center College Theatre Festival in Fort Collins. The play recounts Brigham Young University’s use of  electroshock therapy in an attempt to change the homosexual desires of 14 young men in the mid-1970s. College or no, it ranks among my list of the best productions of 2012 anywhere.
  • Crystal Carter: The director staged the first-ever immersive, real-time adaptation of Quentin Tarantino’s bloody 1992 cult classic “Reservoir Dogs” for Theatre ‘d Art in Colorado Springs.
  • Ben Dicke: The producer, director and star of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson returned to perform just three weeks after a serious opening-night accident hospitalized him with four broken ribs, a head gash and a lacerated lung.
  • Cory Gilstrap: He designed a full menagerie of puppets that served as every support character in Backstage Theatre’s  “A Christmas Carol,” starring Jim Hunt as Scrooge.
  • Kevin Landis, TheatreWorks’ highly regarded Prologue series brings some of the nation’s most important theater artists, such as playwright  Sarah Ruhl, to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs each month. Coming in March: Michael Friedman, who wrote the “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” score, and New York’s Public Theatre artistic director Oskar Eustis, who is responsible for “Angels in America” ever being staged.
  • Eric Laurits: Ongoing excellence in stage photography.
  • The final class of the National Theatre Conservatory: The Denver Center’s 28-year old master’s program in acting closed, having graduated 255 alumni into the worlds of theater, film, television and theater education. The final grads were:
    Biko Eisen-Martin
    Courtney Esser
    Maurice Jones
    Amy Kersten
    ZZ Moor
    Chiara Motley
    Andrew Schwartz
    Matt Zambrano
  • Mackenzie Paulsen: Conceived the innovative shadow-puppet design for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” at the Aurora Fox.
  • Philip Sneed and Tina Packer: Sneed brought the respected actor and director to Boulder to perform all five parts of her “Women of Will” cycle, which explored  all the women in Shakespeare’s canon. Packard unveiled a new hour-long episode each week for five weeks during the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s 2012 season.