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Houston Theater Awards

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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.

Finalists: Kregg Dailey as our nation's seventh president in Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson (Generations Theatre); Travis Ammons as crazy Jerry in Edward Albee's Zoo Story (Edge Theatre); James Belcher as the lonely writer in The Unexpected Man (Stages); David Matranga as a huckster producer in Mistakes Were Made (Stages Repertory Theatre); Guy Roberts as Shakespeare's most malevolent king in Richard III (Main Street and Prague Shakespeare Festival); and Abraham Zeus Zapata as gay window dresser Molina in Manuel Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman (Unhinged Productions).

Best Actress

Florence Garvey (Back Porch Players)

Months after she blistered the paint off the walls at Barnevelder, Florence Garvey's radioactive performance in Suzan-Lori Parks' In the Blood (Back Porch Players) still smolders in our mind. As woeful street lady Hester, Garvey pierced into the essence of this lowest of the low and smashed her pain right in our face. A chilling portrait etched in horror and hopelessness, Hester is failed by everyone who proclaims they're out to protect her: government, religion, care-workers, friends and lovers. Wanting a normalcy that's impossible to achieve, she cracks into madness. Using raw, sharp-edged poetry that lacerated as it stung, Garvey reached into the character's hellish darkness and transformed Hester's pleas for help into screams of torment. This was hard-to-take theater, gritty, disturbing and fairly awful to look upon, let alone think about later. But magician Garvey turned Parks's expressionistic tale into potent, once-in-a-blue-moon theater.

Finalists: Brittny Bush as a droll child observer in Alan Ayckbourn's My Wonderful Day (Main Street); Sarah Cooksey as Jane Austen's matchmaker in Jon Jory's Emma (A.D. Players); Jeannette Clift George as a vivacious septuagenarian in George's Whatever Happened to the Villa Real? (A.D. Players); and Kristina Sullivan as guttersnipe-turned-duchess Eliza in Lerner and Lowe's My Fair Lady (Masquerade ­Theatre).

Best Supporting Actor

Troy Schulze (Catastrophic Theatre)

In the midst of darkness there is light, and Troy Schulze as the abused servant Clov in Samuel Beckett's Endgame from Catastrophic Theatre found the not-so-buried resentment of the underdog, fleshed it out with his painstaking care and humorous mistakes in carrying out orders, and silently and brilliantly conveyed his smoldering hatred of his overlord. He capped the performance with subdued glee as the worm turned and Clov escaped repetitive, boring tyranny. Schulze's body language was richly comedic and brought the essential relief and counterpoint to Beckett's dark view of the human condition.

Finalists: Wayne DeHart as Stool Pigeon in August Wilson's King Hedley II (Ensemble Theatre); Seán Patrick Judge as Turgenev in Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia (Main Street); Carl Masterson as Professor Serebryakov in Uncle Vanya (Classical Theatre Company); John Stevens as Fagin in Oliver Twist (Theatre Southwest); and Philip Hays as Dog in Dog Act (Main Street Theater).

Best Supporting Actress

Jackie Pender-Lovell (Theatre Southwest)

As Mrs. Toothe in Edward Albee's Everything in the Garden at Theatre Southwest, Jackie Pender-Lovell took command of the stage with physical stride, attitude and authority. In a play filled with minor-league evil characters, her role as an executive madam showed that pure evil, as always, is fascinating. She held the play together and made plausible an unlikely series of events, as middle-aged upward-strivers move from mere corruption to brutal murder. Resisting ample opportunities for exaggeration, Pender-Lovell opted for understated power, letting us glimpse the iron fist within the velvet glove. She was compelling, nuanced and memorable.

Finalists: Carolyn Houston Boone as Samantha in American Falls (Catastrophic Theatre); Jen Cody as Adelaide in Guys and Dolls (TUTS); Lyndsay Sweeney as Lenny in Crimes of the Heart (Texas Repertory Theatre); and Pamela Vogel as Leontine in The Triumph of Love (Generations Theatre).

Best Breakthrough

Katie Van Kooten (HGO)

One diva per opera is usually enough for us, but Houston Grand Opera amazed with a double whammy in its stirring production of Donizetti's rarely performed Mary Stuart. Superstar coloratura mezzo Joyce DiDonato (a hometown favorite ever since her student days at HGO), as the doomed queenly heroine, met her match onstage with young fiery soprano Katie Van Kooten, as the proud, jealous Elizabeth I, who blew the blood-red roof right off the Wortham. The fireworks between the duo matched any classic Crawford/Davis catfight, as one vocal roulade trumped each preceding one. We award the match to Van Kooten, whose volcanic yet agile voice, armed with supple intonation, impeccable diction and magisterial stage presence, stole the show from veteran Di­Donato. Unfortunately, Donizetti drops Liz after Act II, but her royal impact lingered long after Mary went to the block. Act III is all Mary, but we had already lost our head to Van Kooten. She returns to HGO in October to sing Puccini's frail flower-maker Mimi in La Bohème.

Best Costumes

Claremarie Verheyen, In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play (Stages Repertory ­Theatre)

What is more sumptuous onstage than the rustle of patterned silk or the swish of fine velvet? Period costumes are our weakness, especially when they add flavor to their wearers as Verheyen's ravishing Victorian creations did for Sarah Ruhl's comedy of corseted manners. The rustle was apparent as voluminous skirts were raised in the dimly lit doctor's office as the women were introduced to the shivering charms of the electric vibrator. The novel bodily sensations, first secretly feared, then heartily embraced, opened their minds to what pleasures the state of marriage had denied them for so long. And there's no sin in pleasure, the costumes said, echoing the play's theme. The clothes for the women's husbands were as detailed as the men were obtuse: greatcoats, cravats and crisp linen shirts bound their egos tighter than any whalebone.

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.

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).

Best Ensemble

The Coast of Utopia at Main Street

This cast demonstrated that a beautiful mosaic can be composed of individual brilliance, brought together and fused into a majestic whole by the skill of director and cast. As brilliant as specific characterizations were, they always blossomed from the rich earth of Mother Russia — no matter that a setting might be Paris — and were bound together by the glue of a talkative society in upheaval. The cast enfolds us in that world and holds us close as we savor its disparate dreams, anxious arguments, loves, betrayals and inexorable need to see beyond the horizon.

Finalists: Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson (Generations Theatre Company); Evil Dead (Stage Door, Inc., Pasadena); Noises Off (Alley Theatre); and Sanctified (Ensemble Theatre).

Best Gem of a Theater

The Houston Family Arts Center

The Houston Family Arts Center consistently provides superior theater in its own handsome theater, tucked away in a strip mall in northwest Houston, and often rents the nearby 456-seat Berry Center Theater for musical productions. This year it outdid itself by commissioning and then producing a comedic mystery drama from noted playwright Rob Urbinati, and the result was a most entertaining success. It also produced the world premiere of the musical Kissless, and raised $75,000 to enter it in a NYC competition and run it off-B'way for several weeks.

Finalist: Stage Door Inc. in Pasadena, for high-energy, ensemble brilliance for Evil Dead and Avenue Q, among others.

Best Trouper

Andy Ingalls (Thunderclap Productions)

In Andy Ingalls's one-man performance in Conor McPherson's Rum and Vodka from Thunderclap Productions, he portrays an Irish youth trapped in a boring job and life who snaps and turns to a familiar solace, alcohol, this time on an extended bender avoiding both work and family. Onstage by himself, Ingalls provides a gripping, varied portrait, giving us the degradation, hope and despair of a youth cursed with enough imagination to see his problems but not enough to solve them. Ingalls perfectly matched McPherson's ruthlessly honest writing, and his one-man tour de force is relentless and fascinating as he flees his ­demons.

Finalists: Tamarie Cooper as Herself in Doomsday (Catastrophic Theatre); and Todd Waite as Crumpet the Elf in The Santaland Diaries (Alley).

Best College Theater

University of Houston

The University of Houston had two outstanding productions this year. Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan, directed by Steve Wallace, established Irish rusticity with brogues as thick as peat and authentically stained costumes. It had gripping portrayals by Joshua Kyle Hoppe as Cripple Billy and Colin David as brutal Babbybobby. Arthur Miller's The Crucible was directed by guest director Gus Kaikkonen, who found the humanity behind Miller's moralizing, in a deeply moving production, enhanced by superb performances by Benjamin Reed as John Proctor and Shannon Hill as his wife, Elizabeth, and a brilliant set by Mark Krouskop.

Finalist: Rice University. They even made the floor tilt in The Drunken City.

Best Playwright

Miki Johnson, American Falls

Actress Miki Johnson added a new credit to her résumé this year: playwright. Her debut play, American Falls, presented by the Catastrophic Theatre Company, where she's a member, played to rave reviews. The play begins with the line "Let me tell you a story," but this is no ordinary story — it's magical and wonderful and a marvelous start to what we hope is a long and prolific writing career. (Johnson's second play, Fleaven, is already in production with Catastrophic.)

Finalists: L. Robert Westeen, Cocaine & Ethel Merman: The New Homo Guide; Kathy Drum, 13 Miles From Security; and Peter Wittenberg Jr., PRE, one of The Coitus Plays.

Best Risk

The Coast of Utopia (Main Street Theater)

It took immense nerve for Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden to take on this trilogy of plays calling for an immense cast and with talky subject matter. The rehearsal schedule was brutal for the actors who signed on. They practiced throughout the holidays — okay, they took Christmas Day off — to have it ready for the first play's opening night. What could have bankrupted her theater instead was the hit of the season. She counted on there being an audience of intelligent people out there in Houston, and she found it. The entire company of players and technicians should be applauded as well, as they joined in Udden's vision by throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the project.

Finalists: Alley Theatre for its New Play Initiatives bringing new plays to the stage, and Houston Grand Opera's HGOco for Song of Houston: East + West, a series of original chamber operas.

Best Season

Catastrophic Theatre

Few theater companies can hope to have a hit show each and every time out, but Catastrophic Theatre managed to pull it off during the 2011-12 season. Things started off last September with There Is a Happiness That Morning Is by Mickle Maher, staged in the company's micro-theater (also known as its office) with Troy Schulze and Amy Bruce as a couple who'd made love on a college lawn — in full view of the students and staff. Then there was the musical play Anna Bella Eema, with Elissa Levitt, Ivy Castle and Jessica Janes as a trio of homebound women living in a trailer park that's about to be torn down in order to make room for a highway. The avant-garde one-act won rave reviews. That was followed by Endgame by Samuel Beckett. Beckett in the capable hands of director Jason Nodler, with Greg Dean, Mikelle Johnson, Joel Orr and Troy Schulze onstage, made for a thrilling night of theater. Then it was Mikelle Johnson's hit debut play American Falls, a sort of Our Town with a twist. And the company's annual bit of musical silliness, this time called Tamarie Cooper's DOOMSDAY REVUE (The Greatest Musical Ever!), closed out the season.

Finalist: Main Street Theater.

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