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Houston Theater Awards

From actors to designers, directors to technicians, the city's brightest talent gets its due.

Check out our slideshow, The Year in Houston Theater.

Well, we guess it's sort of official. Last month, influential money magazine Forbes bestowed upon our very own Houston its highest ranking as "America's Coolest City to Live." We're number one! Thanks, guys, but you're a little late. We've known this for years.

Forbes liked our youthful diversity, business-friendly policies, world-class museums and multicultural streetscape. It also tallied our restaurants and bars per capita. But there was one criterion that caught our eye, and we quote: "a strong theater scene." Yes, indeed. We've got every city beat in that department.

Sure, New York theater, the Oz of drama, has glitz and the sheen of Broadway; San Francisco has Berkeley Rep's cutting edge; San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse workshops more world premieres than anyone else (Jersey Boys is that company's current cash cow); Chicago's got improv comedy down to a science; and Jupiter, Florida, has Burt Reynolds. But we on the Bayou have it all — okay, no Burt.

The variety and quality of our theater are unsurpassed, season after season. New companies open all over town, our university departments deliver consistently high-end productions, our regional theater is second to none and our professional troupes rival anything seen on Broadway. The depth of the product, the creative range of our actors and the pure joy exuded by everyone in putting on a show are marvels to behold. Nothing in the arts grabs the imagination and shakes us up more than live theater.

It's time that we at the Houston Press honor our city's incredibly rich theater scene — and this year's season was particularly savory. For the inaugural Houston Theater Awards, we at the Press put our heads together and whittled categories and countless nominees to the winners and finalists you see below. To Houston's credit, the sheer weight of evidence we sifted through is ample proof of our theater's sterling caliber.

The Theater Awards will be an annual event, and, since this is our first presentation, we may have overlooked a category or nominee in our zeal and excitement. We welcome our readers' feedback. And if you missed any of these marvelous productions from last season, with their knock-your-socks-off performances, well, a new theater season has just begun to stir anew your heart and mind. Live theater is one of the wonders of the world, so go and be invigorated. It's the greatest show on earth.

Silence your cell phones and unwrap those candies. The overture has begun, curtain's going up. Ladies and gentlemen, we present the first annual Houston Theater Awards. If you can, please hold your applause until the end. —D.L.Groover

Editor's note: The following assessments were reached after considering community input and our own attendance at Houston theater offerings and written by Press theater critics D.L. Groover and Jim Tommaney, Arts and Culture Editor Olivia Flores Alvarez and Editor Margaret Downing. Tommaney, who works with Edge Theatre, did not vote for his theater or write up any category that contained it.

Best Play/Production

The Coast of Utopia (Main Street Theater)

Main Street Theater scored a coup when it obtained the rights to stage Tom Stoppard's epic trilogy (Voyage, Shipwreck, Salvage) about 19th-century Russian revolutionaries. The first sanctioned production since the New York premiere, Main Street's immaculately acted version crackled with electric theatricality as it concentrated on the intimate personal struggles of these overheated young thinkers on the cusp of changing their world. Stoppard's time-tripping adventure with its dense, witty text glowed with sympathy and was most effective when downplaying the spectacle. Politics is no match for the human heart. The tears it inspired were tears of joy for imbuing this multiple-Tony Award winner with unapologetic intelligence and sensibility. Stoppard's most magnificent ship sailed forth full-rigged with sails billowing, and only got better as the voyage proceeded. The three plays represent contemporary drama without parallel. In every way, it was the theatrical event of the year.

Finalists: Mikelle Johnson's American Falls (Catastrophic Theatre); Samuel Beckett's Endgame (Catastrophic Theatre); Suzan-Lori Parks's In the Blood (Back Porch Players); and Michael Frayn's Noises Off (Alley Theatre).

Best Musical

Next to Normal (Stages Repertory Theatre)

The regional premiere of the rock musical Next to Normal at Stages Repertory Theatre had innovative staging, superb performances and lighting dusted with magic. The music by Tom Kitt is virtually continuous, with moments of special power such as the duel for Diana's love in "I Am the One," or when Diana is forced to choose in "Make Up Your Mind." The book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey form a perfect combination — achingly deep involvement tempered with ironic distance — that serves the work admirably. Poignant and heartbreaking, it etched into our soul with the acid of truth.

Finalists: Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson (Generations Theatre); Finian's Rainbow (Bayou City Concert Musicals); My Fair Lady (Masquerade Theatre); and Sanctified (Ensemble Theatre).

Best Actor

Joe Kirkendall (Main Street Theater)

As thoughtful firebrand Alexander Herzen, Tom Stoppard's sober and wise hero in The Coast of Utopia, stalwart Joe Kirkendall anchored the three plays with his solid, impeccable interpretation. He cut a magnificent figure on the stage, tall and solid, virile and kind, with expressive, large hands and a sculpted head that would do Rushmore proud. As the natural leader of this fervent band of intellectual revolutionaries, he clarified the most complex of Stoppard's arguments, which can be dense as Shakespeare, and carried the play upon his broad shoulders. Through Kirkendall's ardently rich interpretation, aided by a pungent baritone, Herzen became the most decent of the intelligentsia, a beloved family man, a committed revolutionary. Whether sinner or saint, he was fully there, a man for all seasons.

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8 comments
cutemutt1976
cutemutt1976

The Poets was by far the most darring show of the year! It was the only real show to tackle bullying with breakthrough performances. I hear it's going to be produced in New York.

roncaguey2
roncaguey2

These awards are a joke. How can the saddest news in theatre be the capricious closing of a theatre, managed by a control freak, when the tragic death of Laura Beth Botkin, the extraordinary lead (Kate Monster) of Avenue Q. Also, no awards were given to Avenue Q, even when your own critic attested that the production was exceptional and in many instances than the one performed in Broadway. No even a mention for Tell me on a Sunday, an epic performance by Rachel Landon with a superb group of musicians. I don't know who the judges are, or if there is a committee or what, but I don't even think that are based on a real assessment of the productions. 

tedmuscl2muscl
tedmuscl2muscl

I find it totally refreshing that the Alley has only received several awards. The Alley is no longer the best theatre in town although they still consider themselves just that. Smaller theatres have finally eclipsed the downtown fortress and shown the Alley that great theatre is happening everywhere in our city, thanks to fabulous artistic directors who continue to push the envelope of cutting edge theatre. Forward we go!

tedmuscl2muscl
tedmuscl2muscl

I did award sound design in plays and musicals in my Buzzy Awards. and also Best Ensemble Awards. Google “Buzzy Awards” and it will take you to my winners.

slumpville
slumpville like.author.displayName 1 Like

Ad5os, Better their personal opinions than a popularity contest, whereby the largest theater in town runs away with every award, because those shows have larger houses. These awards are absolutely wonderful. HP, I wonder if you might consider adding sound design next year for an award next year. Sound design often goes unrecognized in reviews and such. It would be cool to see them in these awards next time around. Great job on the awards! Thanks!

Ad5os
Ad5os

Awesome! I don't know who the judges were or how decisions were made as to who was "Better" or even what the credentials are of these judges to make these sort of judgements are so maybe that could be explained but I imagine it is a similar process as your best of Houston series where the best is just the most arbitrary place that your friend works at. And opera shouldn't be included? Wtf. Anyway I think this is a great idea even if it isn't like the academy awards and some of the categories are a bit silly. This town needs all the help the press can give in drumming up business and promoting new theatrical experiences. As an performer I would love to see 5x more theaters being sold out every night. Even weekdays! This is a huge town and I feel we could be doing way better if we didn't have to compete against the mindless crap on corporate TV and Movies. Thanks Press for doing the right thing and recognizing the best out there...even if it is just your own personal opinions. :)

tedmuscl2muscl
tedmuscl2muscl

This is great and you share many of the same players with my BUZZY AWARDS but you really need to break down Best Actor and Actress and Best Supporting Actor and Actress in plays and musicals. And all technical awards need also be broken down between plays and musicals. Best artistic director is not a valid entry in my opinion or the most improved category. I do not believe you should include opera productions. Although opera IS theatre, I think you need to specifically concentrate on theatre (plays and musicals). Otherwise, this is quite complete and it’s about time someone other than myself should be honoring the amazing work of theatres in our fair city. (I have posted awards for the past 4 seasons.)

 
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