Handicapping the Henrys: Who got snubbed (“Hairspray!”)

 

 

 

By John Moore

There seems to be more grumbling than ever before about this year’s list of Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards nominations, and for some understandable reason — five companies hoarded a combined 78 percent of this year’s noms. The CTG is a member-based, dues-paying service organization, and when only 14 of your 60 members get even a single nod (23 percent), you can bet there’s going to be some pushback.

But c’mon, what is this … Field Day?

To look at the list of 106 nominees (of which I saw 102 first-hand), I’ll just come out and say that I think the 30-plus Henrys judges mostly got it right. Mostly. What they got wrong, they got really wrong, but when it comes to singling out the best of what was staged in metro Denver theater in the past year, we really are a land of haves … and those with widely varying distances yet to go.

I love the Henry Awards. But I’m not here to defend their specific nominations. The goal for any awards program, however it is devised, is to come up with a list that fairly represents the quality of work presented on local stages in the previous year. And an easy case can be made for all 106 nominees. It’s solid.

And yet, every year there are big-name companies that are inexplicably wiped off the Henrys’ nominations map – this year, that’s most evidently the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, the handicapped company PHAMALy and that perpetual Henrys doormat, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. The CSF snub particularly stings this year given that “Romeo and Juliet” and “Comedy of Errors” helped make 2011 perhaps the fest’s best season in Boulder since Philip Sneed became producing artistic director in 2006. And for the second straight year, the Henrys gave him nothing for it.

Sneed hires actors and designers who are regularly nominated for their work with other local companies, so in an open letter to the CTG, he asked a compelling question: Are the Henry judges biased against classical work? More bluntly, are they, as a whole, skilled enough in the form to fairly judge it?

I wouldn’t go that far. A play (in any era) either captures your fancy or it doesn’t. But I would add experimental to the dialogue, because the LIDA Project is another form-bending local company that was perennially ignored, so it dropped its Guild membership. LIDA lives to make audiences uncomfortable, and that kind of mission is rarely rewarded by the Henrys.

Snubs aside, the gap that exists between companies borne out of this year’s nominations is, for the most part, real, and it’s not the Henry judges who made it. The companies with the most mojo in 2012 really were the Arvada Center (25 nominations), Curious Theatre (17), the Town Hall Arts Center (15), the Denver Center Theatre Company (13) and Buntport (13), which seems to have been left the new-play category to itself. That’s supposed to be the Denver Center’s sandbox.

Even those with bounty harvests took some big shots to the chin. Judges were clearly enamored with the Denver Center’s cutting-edge political comedy “American Night” (10 nominations). But if not for that, the 2012 Henrys would be a major embarrassment for the nation’s leading regional theater  between L.A. and Chicago. The DCTC picked up just two noms for its other nine plays combined, even though the largely ignored “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Liar” and “The Whale” made for a pretty good and varied season.

The larger complaints that come the Henrys’ way each year are, for the most part, institutional and not eradicable.

One persistent barb is that the little guy just can’t compete in the technical categories, where big-bucks companies like the Denver Center, Arvada Center and Curious have both money and expertly trained artists. That’s true, but there’s a reason professionals like Brian Mallgrave, Shannon McKinney, Gail Gober and Will Burns get snatched up by the companies that can pay: It’s because they’re the best. And for those who extend the inequity beef to the work on the stage, I’d strongly argue that good acting is good acting, wherever it happens. If you believe that a great performance got overlooked, I’d say … check out my list of snubs below! But just because a performance wasn’t nominated doesn’t mean it was overlooked … it just means it didn’t finish in the top five. Finishing seventh or eight on a list of say, 180 supporting actors, is nothing to be ashamed of.

 

 

Another enduring complaint has been the CTG’s self-limiting eligibility requirements. You must be a dues-paying CTG member to be eligible, and some strongly believe the pay-to-play system is horribly unethical. I don’t buy that completely. The CTG is a members-based service organization and as much as I would like to see the Heritage Square Music Hall get its overdue due, if they don’t want to join the club, I don’t see why the club should feel obligated to reward them.

What I have taken umbrage with over the years has been the CTG’s misleading aggrandizement that the Henrys are “Colorado’s Tony Awards.” Not when you have to be a member to be considered, and not when you have to perform within the seven-county metro area. And not when six judges have to see you in order for you to be eligible.

This year, Creede Rep visited Denver with productions of “The Road to Mecca” and “Unnecessary Farce,” giving Henrys judges their first chance to confirm what I’ve been saying for years: That the Creede Rep, located 250 miles southwest of Denver, is easily among the very best companies in Colorado. Those two shows netted Creede Rep its first four Henrys nominations.

But for 2013, the Henrys committee has made a major, welcome and overdue concession that will make all statewide member companies eligible for future awards. As long as those companies can lure the minimum of six judges, then it doesn’t matter if your production is being staged in Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Dillon or Creede — you’re in the running.  It’ll be interesting to see how many of these outside shows actually qualify next year.

But to those frustrated companies who look at the list of 106 Henrys nominees and ask, “How could we not get even one nomination?” consider that this year, Henrys judges managed to get 142 of your 164 shows qualified for eligibility. (Here’s more on which shows were eligible for 2012). And when you think about it, five nominees out of 142 shows represents only about the top 2.5 percent of all eligible candidates. Well, that’s not entirely fair: Of the eligible 142, 108 were plays and 34 were musicals. But considering productions often have multiple actors eligible in each performing category, the fields are still quite large, and the top five is lofty territory. As it should be.

The bottom line is that no one will ever completely agree with any list of nominees, from the Tonys to the Oscars to the Ovations to the Henrys. And that’s OK. The greater goal is for all of us to gather as a community to celebrate the fact that you all do some amazing, creative work in this state.

The party starts at 6 p.m. at the L2 Arts & Culture Center, 1477 Columbine St., in Denver. The awards ceremony begins at 7 p.m., Tickets are $20-$50 and are available online at coloradotheatreguild.org.

 

 

That said, let’s have some fun. So who did get the shaft in 2012? When you get 24 percent of all the nominations, it’s hard to say you got robbed, but the Arvada Center’s production of “Hairspray” got seriously robbed. It’s not nominated for best musical or ensemble, even though no fewer than nine actors deserved serious consideration for individual nominations – and they got zero. I’m not kidding. Here they are:

 

  •  Melvin Brandon Logan, Seaweed
  • Jim J. Bullock, Edna
  • Megan Kane, Tracy
  • DP Perkins, Wilbur
  • Travis Nesbitt, Link Larkin
  • Gabriella Goyette, Motormouth Meybelle
  • Julia Perotta, Penny
  • Kirsti Carnahan, Velma
  • Aisha Jackson, Little Inez

 

“Hairspray” was my Denver Post Ovation Award winner for best musical of 2011, and … nothing. But then again, many of my winners didn’t get nominated for this year’s Henrys (and I’m one of the Henrys voters). Here’s a quick aside shout-out to the subbed:

  • The Arvada Center’s “Hairspray” (best musical)
  • Su Teatro’s “Enrique’s Journey” (best new play)
  • Mondo Guerra, “Hairspray” costumes (the biggest injustice)
  • Josh Hartwell in Curious’ “Clybourne Park”
  • Matt Zambrano in the Denver Center’s “The Liar”
  • Tammy Meneghini in square product’s “The Great Goddess Bazaar”
  • Edith Weiss, director of PHAMALy’s “Vox PHAMILIA: Quadrapalooza”
  • Charles Packard, set design for Aurora Fox’s “K2”

 

One thing I love about the Henry Awards is their utter unpredictability from one year to the next. One year the Miners Alley Playhouse wins best season, and the next year it got no nominations. Last year, Performance Now got nine nominations, and this year it was shut out.

Here’s a closer look at who did and didn’t get nominated in the major categories. We are never asked to judge one performance against another, but I put my personal faves in bold type (just remember, I’m but one of 30):

 

Outstanding Play

Curious Theatre Company, “Clybourne Park” (my fave)

Curious Theatre Company, “Red”

Buntport Theater, “Tommy Lee Jones Goes to Opera Alone”

Curious Theatre Company, “9 Circles”

Denver Center Theater Company, “American Night”

Left out: Against that final five, cases could be made for the inclusion of Creede Rep’s “The Road to Mecca,” Germinal Stage-Denver’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” and Curious’ “On An Average Day.” My favorite Denver Center Theatre Company productions of the season were “The Whale,” “Heartbreak House” and “The Liar.”

 

Outstanding Musical

Arvada Center, “Ragtime”                    

Vintage Theatre Productions, “Avenue Q”

Town Hall Arts Center, “The Producers”

Town Hall Arts Center, “The Who’s Tommy”

Boulder’s Dinner Theatre, “The Drowsy Chaperone”

Snubbed: Again, the Arvada Center’s “Hairspray” (big time), and Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s “Phantom”

 

Outstanding Actor in a Play

Lawrence Hecht, Curious Theatre Company, “Red”       

Michael Kingsbaker, Curious Theatre Company, “On An Average Day”

David DeSantos, Denver Center Theatre Company, “American Night”

Michael Bouchard, Miners Alley Playhouse, “A Touch of Spring”

Sean Scrutchins, Curious Theatre Company, “9 Circles”

Belonging in the conversation: Brian Shea, Curious’ “On an Average Day,” Matt Zambrano, Denver Center’s “The Liar,” Tom Alan Smith, Denver Center’s “The Whale,” John Hutton, Denver Center’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Benjamin Bonenfant, Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Philip Pleasants, Denver Center’s “Heartbreak House”

 

Outstanding Actress in a Play

Christy Brandt, Creede Repertory Theatre, “The Road to Mecca”   

Lisa Bruneau, Denver Center Theatre Company, “Heartbreak House”

Emily Paton Davies, Paragon Theatre, “A Lie of the Mind”

Marcia Ragonetti, Miners Alley Playhouse, “Master Class”

Caitlin Wise, Creede Repertory Theatre, “Unnecessary Farce”

What should happen: This would be the perfect opportunity for the Guild to honor one of the all-time greats of the Colorado stage. Brandt is in her 38th season with Creede Rep, but she’s eligible for a Henry Award for just the first time. She’s the best Colorado actor you may never have seen act before, and “Mecca” was Brandt at her most engrossed, simple, submerged best, artfully conveying the contradiction of the whimsical little girl inside a frail old woman; a sad, doddering artist whose flickering candle is in danger of being prematurely snuffed. Brandt is a treasure.

Snubbed: It’s truly heartbreaking not to see Jamie Ann Romero’s name among this list. Playing a 14-year-old, ironically, Romero came of age as a grown-up actress in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Others worth remembering:  Kate Berry, Creede Rep’s “The Road to Mecca,” Michelle Moore, Germinal’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Dee Covington, Curious’ “Clybourne Park,” Jeanine Serralles, Denver Center’s “The Liar,” Rachel Fowler, Curious’ “Becky Shaw” and Kirsten Brant, The Edge’s “A Small Fire.”

 

Outstanding Actor in a Musical

Tally Sessions, Arvada Center, “Chess”                   

Wayne Kennedy, Arvada Center, “Ragtime”

Russell Mernagh, Town Hall Arts Center, “The Who’s Tommy”

Brian Norber, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre, “The Drowsy Chaperone”

Tyrone Robinson, Arvada Center, “Ragtime”

Assessing the field: “Chess” is a cold, bleak musical but Sessions’ voice injected that production with Cold War heart. But will he win? The sentimental pick is at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre veteran Brian Norber, who slipped into the lead role in “The Drowsy Chaperone” like an old sweater. His main competition may be his friend Wayne Kennedy, who already won a Henry for playing the role as Tateh in BDT’s “Ragtime” in 2007.

Who got snubbed: Markus Warren, BDT’s “Phantom,” Jeremy Palmer, PHAMALy’s “How to Succeed in Business …” Andrew Diessner, Aurora Fox’s “Xanadu” and Tim Howard, Town Hall’s “The Producers.” A great, great field.

 

Outstanding Actress in a Musical

Megan Van de Hey, Arvada Center, “Ragtime”       

Carolyn Lohr, Vintage Theatre Productions,” Avenue Q”

Shannan Steele, Denver Center Attractions, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”

Megan Van De Hey, Arvada Center, “Chess”

Lisa Finnerty, Town Hall Arts Center, “The Who’s Tommy”

Hmmm … This is the most scattershot category of all, and not only because Megan Van De Hey is unnecessarily up against … herself. Don’t get me wrong: She was superb in both roles,  but she never should have been put up for a leading role in “Chess.” She and Lohr would have fit more naturally in the support category. Megan Kane was as good as anyone on Broadway as Tracy in the Arvada Center’s “Hairspray.”

 

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play

Benjamin Bonenfant, Curious Theatre Company, “Red”
Bill Hahn, Curious Theatre Company, “Becky Shaw”   

Mario Cabrera, Creede Repertory Theatre, “Unnecessary Farce”

Richard Azurdia, Denver Center Theatre Company, “American Night”

Erik Edborg, Buntport Theater, “The Roast Beef Situation”

Soap box: Benjamin Bonenfant is Bill Hahn 20 years ago, and Bill Hahn is the actor Benjamin Bonenfant is well on his way to becoming 20 years from now. The casual, colloquial ease Hahn displayed in “Becky Shaw’ is the stuff Hahn has delivered for years as reliably as the morning newspaper. And I’m not above bragging when it comes to Bonenfant. I’ve been championing the recent UC-Colorado Springs graduate since he was a wiry freshman in 2007 all the way through his recent head-turning introduction to Denver audiences in Curious’ “Red.” Watching him grow while tackling enormous challenges from “Wit” to starring in Colorado Shakes’ “Romeo and Juliet” last summer to his savage turn in “Troilus and Cressida” for Theatre ‘d Art (for whom the kid is already associate producing artistic director) has been a joy. Watching Bonenfant go toe-to-toe last month with no less than National Theatre Conservatory head of acting Larry Hecht in “Red” was to see him come fully into his own. The wild card in this category is veteran Mario Cabrera, who was bitingly funny as a kilted killer Scot in Creede Rep’s “Unnecessary Farce.”

Who got snubbed: Judges rate performances on a scale of 1-50, and I don’t mind telling you that the highest score I gave anyone for anything last year was to newcomer Cory Michael Smith, who played the is-he-or-isn’t-he? Mormon prosthelytizer in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s “The Whale.” He had his role down to every muscle twitch, but my enthusiasm wasn’t enough to get him into the top five. Also: While I’m happy to see the underrated funnyman Erik Edborg singled out above for Buntport’s “The Roast Beef Situation,” it was his work as the puppeted voice of the eponymous “Tommy Lee Jones Goes to Opera Alone” that signals a new level of accomplishment.  Also worth a mention: Mike Hartman as a shady turn-of-the-century reporter in the Denver Center’s “Great Wall Story.” Stephen Weitz in the Colorado Shakes’ “Inspector General,” Tom Coiner and Gary Alan Wright for the CSF’s “A Comedy of Errors” and Drew Cortese in the Denver Center’s “The Liar.” But what a great, varied category this one is.

 

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play

Hannah Duggan, Buntport Theater, “Tommy Lee Jones Goes to Opera Alone”

Dena Martinez, Denver Center Theatre Company, “American Night”

Caitlin Wise, Arvada Center, “The Importance of Being Earnest”

Theresa Reid, Spark Theater, “Three Sisters”

Erin Rollman, Buntport Theater, “The Roast Beef Situation”

Who got snubbed: I’ve got acceptable acting crushes on all five of these nominees. But the un-nominated Angela Reed should have walked away with the Henry’s mask for her work as a nurse in the Denver Center’s “The Whale.” Also high on my list: Haley Johnson as a mom still smarting from being heartbroken by her high-school sweetheart in the Edge’s surprisingly moving “Some Girl(s),” and the already twice-nominated Caitlin Wise for perhaps her best work of the year: As Becky in the Denver Center’s  “Tom Sawyer.”

 

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical

Seth Caikowski, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre, “The Drowsy Chaperone”   

Rob Janzen, Town Hall Arts Center, “The Who’s Tommy”

Stephen Day, Arvada Center, “Chess”

Brian Norber, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre, “Phantom”

Matt LaFontaine, Town Hall Arts Center, “The Who’s Tommy”

Do-over: Ironically, Caikowski wasn’t even initially included on the ballot that BDT submitted to Henrys judges. But after the opening weekend it was apparent that, as the skunked-haired lothario in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Caikowski was this production’s shot of comic adrenaline. Voila: New ballot. The biggest “hell yeah” name on the entire list of 2012 Henrys nominees has to be the ballsy acknowledgement of Rob Janzen’s creepy work as the pedophile uncle in Town Hall’s “The Who’s Tommy.”

Who got snubbed: All the aforementioned “Hairspray” actors, most notably Melvin Brandon Logan as Seaweed. I also would have liked to have seen Michael Bouchard and/or Mark Shonsey be singled out for their work in Vintage’s four-star “Avenue Q,” as well as consummate funnyman Eric Mather as the Nazi-loving playwright in Town Hall’s “The Producers.”

 

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical

Arlene Rapal, Vintage Theatre Productions, “Avenue Q”

Joanie Brosseau, Boulder’s Dinner Theatre, “Phantom”   

Gayle Turner, Arvada Center, “The 1940s Radio Hour

Shannan Steele, Arvada Center, “The 1940s Radio Hour”

Ashlie-Amber Harris, Town Hall Arts Center, “The Who’s Tommy”

Crystal ball: There’s no clear favorite among this wild, fun list that represents three generations of local actors. Anything can happen here. Anything.

Who got snubbed: I adored young Rebekah Lancaster for her endearing, heartbreaking turn as Catherine in Ignite’s “Pippin,” so her absence seems an egregious oversight. Also,  Gabriella Goyette in the Arvada Center’s “Hairspray,” the astonishing Sharon Kay White as labor organizer Emma Goldman in the Arvada Center’s “Ragtime,” Boni McIntyre as Abigail Adams in Performance Now’s “1776” … and how about some love for veteran Lori Hansen for her playful turn as the wicked witch in Town Hall’s “The Wizard of Oz.” That forgotten five is every bit as formidable as the (very deserving) Official Five.

 

That all said: Come to the party on July 16. Laugh about it. Cry about it. Argue about it. Just come.