The League of Cincinnati Theatres (LCT) presented awards for the 2012-2013 theater season on May 20 at Know Theatre, too late to report the results in this issue of CityBeat. So I want to offer some thoughts and my own choices. Life kept me busy this season, so I missed a few of LCT’s nominees. But I saw enough to offer opinions. I am a critic, after all.
LCT judging panels attend shows and make recommendations and nominations. The group’s website identifies 23 panelists: academics, active participants in various local companies, a playwright or two, several theater fans and miscellaneous others. They take the task of evaluating seriously, but that’s a lot of people who don’t see every show, so there’s little opportunity for consensus.
For CityBeat’s Cincinnati Entertainment Awards (1997-2010), I used six to eight local critics to make nominations and vote on winners in many categories. Not many of us left, I’m sad to say, with newspapers reducing space for arts coverage. The CEAs employed public voting for some categories, a feature that LCT has adopted for “Outstanding Musical” and “Outstanding Play.” (I suggest LCT might more accurately term these categories “favorites” than “outstanding” works, since public voters are unlikely to have seen more than one or two shows listed as finalists.)
Many LCT panelists work in local theater, so their assessments tend to be rather effusive and breathless. I’m sure praise is warranted, but remarks in news releases suggest that almost every production is worthy of an award or two. There are finalists in 22 categories, two to six nominees per category. (The LCT website doesn’t explain who made the choices or what criteria were applied.)
There are seven finalists for outstanding play: A Behanding in Spokane (Clifton Players), Double Idemnity (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), Mrs.
Mannerly (Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati), Red Light Winter (Untethered Theatre), Through the Night (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), To Kill a Mockingbird (Cincinnati Shakespeare Company) and When the Rain Stops Falling (Know Theatre). Trying to compare productions like Behanding or Red Light, presented at Clifton Performance Theatre, a tiny storefront, with shows at the Playhouse or ETC is tough, since the latter have more means to hire professionals and dazzle with technology. It’s also hard to narrow this field to six. Without diminishing the worthiness of LCT’s finalists, I would have seriously considered ETC’s productions of Freud’s Last Session or Black Pearl Sings!, New Edgecliff’s staging of Proof and perhaps Cincy Shakes’ The Importance of Being Earnest. The Playhouse’s Crucible redux, Abigail/1702, or the wildly popular Book Club Play also would be contenders, as well as Know’s recent staging of Cock.
If I were to choose from LCT’s nominated shows, my choice would definitely be Andrew Bovell’s When the Rain Stops Falling, staged by Brian Isaac Phillips (who is the artistic director at Cincy Shakes and cast four actors from CSC in the production). It was a gripping rendition of a textually complex, emotionally powerful script. But if other productions I’ve mentioned were eligible for my vote, I might have chosen ETC’s Black Pearl or the Playhouse’s Abigail 1702, both expertly cast and staged shows.
The 2012-2013 season was light on musical theater. LCT put forth a mixed bag of five: Camelot in Concert (The Carnegie); Chess (CCM Musical Theater), Hank Williams: Lost Highway (Playhouse), Parade (CCM/Carnegie); and The Revue Review (CCM). UC’s renowned musical theater program is a powerhouse, but it’s not a professional company, so three CCM productions seem a bit much. (I was unable to see any of Northern Kentucky University’s shows this season, but since collegiate productions dominated this category, it’s surprising that something from NKU’s fine program didn’t make the grade.) The Carnegie’s “in concert” productions are a fine addition to the local theater scene, but they are more concert than theater; that also goes for The Revue Review at CCM.
I’ve grown personally weary of ETC’s four-year sequence of nostalgic shows by Roger Bean, but I would have added their The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns to the list and perhaps considered a show from the Covedale Center or on the Showboat Majestic. Nevertheless, my vote for the season’s best musical would have gone to Parade, Jason Robert Brown’s powerful retelling of a tragic moment of prejudice and injustice in American history, produced using CCM’s musical theater resources at the Carnegie, directed by Ed Cohen and Dee Anne Bryll.
I hope LCT keeps up the effort to recognize local theater, and I urge them to continue refining the process.
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