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Houston Theater Awards

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

Finalists: Donna Southern Schmidt, Charley's Aunt (A.D. Players); and Alejo Vietti, The Seagull (Alley Theatre).

Best Set Design

Hugh Landwehr, The Seafarer (­Alley Theatre)

When a play's setting becomes another major character in the drama, you know the set designer has found his voice. Landwehr's pungent house interior in Conor McPherson's brogue-laced Christian tall tale The Seafarer sang out like The Irish Tenors. The production was ravishing, with the dank, decayed setting a perfect foil for the drunken misfits inhabiting it. On the decrepit outskirts of Dublin, the house, or what was left of it, dripped atmosphere. Everything was ripped or peeling, the walls crawling with mold and damp. You could smell the rot. The forsaken men inside didn't fear hell; they were already living there — impeccable design that left one breathless.

Finalists: Jodi Bobrovsky's comic book Panto Red Riding Hood (Stages); Laura Fine Hawkes's dusty basement Endgame (Catastrophic); and Jean-Guy Lecat's classically ruined The Rape of Lucretia (HGO).

Best Lighting

Matt Schlief, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Generations Theatre)

Matt Schlief's lighting design for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson from Generations Theatre shifted like quicksilver, from dramatic upstage portal to ensemble, to separate spotlights downstage for four preening politicians, and footlights as they collapsed on the floor in a tableau. He conjured a haunting semi-darkness as a satirical chant chronicled the genocide of American Indians, and a soft mid-stage spot as Jackson accepted bigamy as the price of love. Schlief's shape-shifting lighting not only perfectly matched the driving energy of this remarkable production, it lit up the lives of all who saw it.

Finalists: Natasha Katz for The Addams Family (Gexa Energy Broadway Across America); and Michael James Clark for The Rape of Lucretia (Houston Grand Opera).

Best Director

Rebecca Greene Udden, The Coast of Utopia (Main Street Theater)

Unlike a maestro, a theater director is best appreciated when not seen. One must give all to the author, letting his voice guide the production. But like a maestro, the director must lead disparate forces and shape it all into a cohesive whole. When the music is as authoritative, knowing and complicated as Tom Stoppard's, one tries not to get in his way. Udden walked with Tom as if holding hands. She brought out all themes in his complex music and allowed them to breathe, like the finest string quartet, all harmonies in sync. There was wondrous rhythm to her work, first an autumnal flow that paralleled Stoppard's Chekhov; then a Beethoven rush when the revolutionaries were in the ardency of manhood; and then a neo-Romantic quiet when age caught up with reality and the dreams of these out-of-shape revolutionaries were deferred for another era. Udden was also a fine painter, layering Stoppard with crisp, evocative images that set the scene without any words — which is hard to do with Stoppard, who never stops talking. All three mighty plays coalesced into one thrilling sensation as Udden led her Main Street orchestra to a standing ovation.

Finalists: Gregory Boyd, Noises Off (Alley Theatre); Eva Laporte, POST, one of the two Coitus plays (NightCap Theatre); Emma Martinsen, No Exit (Bit of a Stretch Theatre Co.); Jason Nodler, Endgame (Catastrophic); and David Rainey, Our House (Black Lab Theatre).

Best Visiting Production

Million Dollar Quartet (Gexa Energy Broadway)

For a jukebox musical (that spurious genre that uses previously written songs around which the show is constructed), Quartet surprised and delighted. There wasn't much thinking to the story, since the authors, Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, used a historic incident when four musicians met one December afternoon in 1956 for a jam session in a Memphis recording studio. But when the quartet consists of the caliber of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and cult classic Carl Perkins, one stands back and lets the guys rock. They did, and how, shaking the Hobby Center with help from the whoopin' and hollerin' audience. The impersonations were uncannily exact: Derek Keeling was lean, dark and handsome with Cash's cistern-deep bass voice and low-key intensity; Cody Slaughter had Elvis's pivoting hips and pouty delivery; Lee Ferris played Perkins's fiery guitar like the iconic inspiration he would later become to practically every famous rocker; and Martin Kaye, with that finger-in-socket mop of hair, pounded the ivories with Lewis's genius abandon. The show boogied through "Matchbox," "Folsom Prison Blues," Long Tall Sally," "Great Balls of Fire," "I Hear You Knocking" and a dozen more '50s greatest hits, and joyously took us back to a time of dreamy rebellion streaked with gobs of Brylcreem.

Finalists: Addams Family (Gexa); Lion King (Gexa); and Memphis (Gexa).

Best Honorary Houstonian

Hallie Foote (Alley Theatre)

Hallie Foote wasn't born here, but she comes back often to keep the memory and the work of her late father Horton Foote (who lived in Wharton) alive. In Dividing the Estate at the Alley Theatre, she was a fireball of foot-stamping frustration and greed as a small-town Texas mother who equates money with happiness and wants it all for herself and her family — a husband and two spoiled daughters. As Mary Jo, she conveyed desperation as a character grasping onto the hope that somehow in her debt-ridden life, something can be salvaged and she can go on living in Houston. When that somehow doesn't work out, she still makes plans for the days ahead, biding her time till better times.

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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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