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CEAs: 100 Reasons to Celebrate Theater

By Rick Pender · July 8th, 2009 · Curtain Call

Starting this week you can vote for the 2009 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for theater here. Voting continues through Aug. 3.

The CEAs, established by CityBeat in 1996, use public voting for a dozen categories and a poll of critics for the remaining eight, covering productions and technical aspects better judged by people who see a lot of theater. Five nominees are selected for 20 categories by a panel of local critics. This year’s choices were made by seven critics who write for four different media outlets — CityBeat, TalkinBroadway.com, The Hamilton Journal-News and Aeqai, an arts Web site.

[Check out the CEA theater microsite for all the nominations.]

What do the nominations reveal? I often brag that Cincinnati has an excellent array of theater for a city this size. The CEAs underscore that fact: There are 45 distinct productions with at least one nomination apiece. What’s more, 15 different theater companies are represented. (The CEAs recognize only locally mounted shows produced at professional theaters such as Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati as well as educational institutions and various community theaters. Cincy Fringe Festival shows are eligible if they're the work of local artists.)

On occasion, it’s been suggested that too many of the same people get nominated for CEAs every year.

That’s a risk, because the universe of local theater talent is finite and many fine performers work steadily. If they’re top-notch professionals (such as Bruce Cromer, who plays Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse every holiday season,) they'll be nominated often. (He was recognized last year for his performance in Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s King Lear. This year he’s a candidate in two categories: for playing Salieri in Amadeus for Cincinnati Shakespeare [pictured] and Fredrik Egerman in New Stage Collective’s A Little Night Music.)

Nonetheless, in the 10 categories in which actors and actresses are nominated this year, 24 candidates have been contenders previously while 26 are new to the CEAs. That speaks well for the opportunity for recognition.

There’s no award for the theater with the most nominations, but it’s worth noting that five organizations pulled down 10 or more this year. Ensemble Theatre (18) led the way, followed closely by the College-Conservatory of Music (17), the Playhouse (14), Cincinnati Shakespeare (12) and New Stage Collective (12), which closed its doors in May. Actors from out of town who perform at the Playhouse and ETC have only two categories for possible nomination, while local actors have eight. So the number of nominees isn't a real indicator of quality.

A truer test is found in the top categories — outstanding premiere, play and musical — in which seven theaters are nominated. Four productions from ETC are represented (Grey Gardens, The Seafarer, Gem of the Ocean and Mauritius), underscoring the perception by many local theatergoers that 2008-09 was ETC’s best season ever. New Stage has three (Dying City, Shining City, A Little Night Music), all the more reason to mourn the company’s demise. The Playhouse has two (Love Song, Blackbird), as does Cincinnati Shakespeare (Amadeus, The Seagull) and CCM (Two Gentlemen of Verona, Urinetown). Know Theatre (Eurydice) and Cincinnati Music Theatre (Gypsy) have one each. That list includes 15 outstanding shows — more than many local theater fans see during a single season.

It might be a cliché to say that the real honor in any awards program is nomination, but I think it’s true. This year’s CEAs offer 100 reasons to celebrate theater in Cincinnati.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



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