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Houston Theater Awards

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

Finalists: Constantine Maroulis, Toxic Avenger (Alley); Rock of Ages (TUTS); and Jay Sullivan, Red (Alley), Black Coffee (Alley).

Best New Theater Company

Bit of a Stretch ­Theatre Co.

The youngest theater troupe on the Bayou had an adventuresome season, with two certifiable hits that couldn't have been more different: Jean-Paul Sartre's darker than hell classic No Exit, and Michael John LaChiusa's intelligent chamber musical First Lady Suite. Led by the youthful artistic team of Erin Cressy, Wiley DeWeese and Emma Martinsen, all recent graduates of Houston's own prestigious High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Bit of a Stretch lives up to its goal to "promote change...to forge deep, emotional relationships between theatrical works and audiences...for small, rarely-performed forgotten treasures and new, unconventional pieces." It's a lot to chew on, but Stretch has had a tasty track record so far. When theater is served by dedicated and talented youth, there's often no limit to the wonders they can perform. Possibilities seem limitless.

Best Choreography for a Musical

Laura Babbitt, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Masquerade Theatre)

A shining light onstage in numerous Masquerade productions (her cotton candy Ulla in The Producers and her sparkling star turn in The Drowsy Chaperone were highlights), Babbitt truly kicks up the wattage when she supplies the dances. In the Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek con-man musical, when high-class Riviera fleecer (Luther Chakurian) meets low-class grifter (Michael J. Ross), the resulting culture clash has movement built into it. Babbitt's pacing of the varied dance numbers kept the show perpetually on the prowl. She winningly turned crass into class.

Finalists: Andy Blankenbuehler, Bring It On (TUTS); Garth Fagan, Lion King (Gexa); and Krissy Richmond, Melissa Pritchett and Rob Flebbe, Finian's Rainbow (Bayou City Concert Musicals).

Saddest theater news

Closing of Masquerade Theatre

When Phillip Duggins's Masquerade Theatre, Houston's pre-eminent producer of musicals using only home-grown talent, shut its doors last spring, the sound was deafening. Theater mavens who know a good thing — and Masquerade shows were consistently good when not downright excellent — were appropriately flummoxed by the sudden news, then immensely saddened. For more than a decade and a half, Masquerade gave us exceptional shows, using a repertory of singing actors with Olympic-size talent. Even when shoehorned into its original flimsy space up on Shepherd, the shows overflowed with originality and Broadway pizzazz. There was no other company in Houston that radiated such joy in putting on a show. When it moved into the Hobby Center to become the center's resident company, Masquerade finally had a professional venue worthy of it. But the move brought hefty financial obligations that ultimately swamped the good ship, no matter how capable the product. Vestiges of its former glory can still be seen, thankfully, at the cabaret venue Music Box Theater, where five of Masquerade's former stars (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor, Luke Wrobel and Kristina Sullivan) have taken up residence. Farewell, O Masquerade, you enriched Houston's musical theater like no other, and you will be sorely missed.

Most improved company

Opera in the Heights

Opera in the Heights, whose home is the intimate and reconfigured former Heights Christian Church, now known as Lambert Hall, will never match the opulent resources of big sis downtown, Houston Grand Opera, but with its recently appointed artistic director and maestro Enrique Carreón-Robledo, it has significantly upped its Q factor. That would be Quality. The physical productions, scaled down to the small house, have been imaginatively staged within the limited space. Who would have guessed that Verdi's grand spectacle Don Carlo could be as polished as a Cartier diamond, or that his steamroller Il Trovatore would possess such volcanic fury, or that Mozart's Così fan tutte would sparkle with such wit and charm? The singers, most on the cusp of major discovery, fill the house with sumptuous technique and youthful ardor; the chorus has improved tenfold; and the orchestra blazes with new fire. Coming up: two bell canto rarities, Rossini's Otello and Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi; early Verdi masterpiece Macbeth; and his last masterpiece, the comic gem Falstaff. Watch for the smoke from Lambert; it's a sign of opera freshly kindled.

Best Artistic Director

Rebecca Greene Udden (Main Street Theater)

If she had produced nothing other than Tom Stoppard's magnificent opus The Coast of Utopia, Main Street Theater Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden would still be honored by us, but the remainder of her season was remarkably top-notch also. Starting with two world premieres, Y York's football metaphor Woof and Nalsey Tinberg's Jewish journey Cakewalk, Udden selected her product wisely. Switching gears, she gave us a galvanic Richard III, co-produced with Prague Shakespeare Festival, followed up with the delightfully antic My Wonderful Day by Alan Ayckbourn and the end-of-the-world vaudeville Dog Act by Liz Duffy Adams. Anchored by the exceptionally vivid Coast of Utopia, her season at Main Street provided her audience with the highest-quality product, always theatrically alive and compellingly thought-provoking.

Finalists: Gregory Boyd (Alley Theatre); Jennifer Decker (Mildred's Umbrella); Steve Fenley (Texas Repertory Theatre); Mimi Holloway (Theater Southwest); Jason Nodler (Catastrophic Theatre); and Misha Penton (Divergence Vocal Theater).

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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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