Depending on who you ask, 2015 was either a great year for local theater, or a terrible year. A consensus among some fellow theater critics: Lots of bland theater enlivened by a handful of truly superb productions.
There was also lots of exciting news in the world of local theater as several theaters got new leaders (ACT and Seattle Rep) and other announced they were stepping down (Seattle Children’s Theatre Linda Hartzell announced she is retiring after 32 years as artistic director.)
Some theaters had to give up the ghost (farewell Stone Soup!), but others got a new home thanks to the opening of the fantastic new 12th Avenue Arts space on Capitol Hill, where Washington Theatre Ensemble, Strawberry Theatre Workshop and New Century Theatre Company all moved in as anchor tenants, while also renting out the two black box theaters to several other local theater companies.
On the musical theater front it was an odd mix of feast/famine as old established musical theater producers played it safe with ok shows, while some upstart musical producers scored the biggest hits. Seattle’s prestigious Tony Award winning Seattle Repertory Theatre is primarily known for staging classic works and the latest Pulitzer/Tony Award winning dramas but they had two big hits with two new musicals, the locally created “Lizard Boy” by wunderkind multi-hyphenate Justin Huertas, and the bound for Broadway musical drama, “Come From Away” the delightfully odd new work about airline passengers stranded in Canada after the horrors of 9/11 grounded all flights into the United States. “Come From Away”, which is being produced by local theater impresarios, Kenny and Marleen Alhadeff, broke box office records for Seattle Rep this past December.
And, now both “Lizard Boy” and “Come From Away” have cleaned up with Gypsy Award nominations as the Seattle Theater Writer’s group announces their 5th annual awards for excellence in Seattle area theater for the 2015 calendar year. Officially the “Gypsy Rose Lee Awards” in honor of the burlesque star, actor, writer and entertainment icon who was born in Seattle before hitting the road to become a superstar in vaudeville, burlesque, the legitimate state, film, television and publishing. For the 2015 season, the STW honors local theater in 32 categories that recognize both larger and smaller theater companies as well as separate award categories for musical theater. Nominees for all 32 categories have been released over the last week and the final press release went out Wednesday, January 13, 2016.
“Lizard Boy” leads the 2015 nomination announcements with a whopping 11 noms including Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical for Brandon Ivie, Best Supporting Actor nods for both Kirsten deLohr Helland and William A. Williams, and three nominations for star/creator Justin Huertas: Best Actor in a Musical, Best Local Composing and Best Local Playwriting.
“Come From Away” also grabbed nominations for Best Musical, Best Director of a Musical (Christopher Ashley), Best Actor (Jenn Collela), 3 Supporting Actor nods and several design nominations for a total of 10 nominations.
On the non-musical side, Theatre 22’s production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Water by the Spoonful” by Quiara Alegría Hudes picked up 10 nominations including Best Play, Director, Ensemble and four individual acting nominations, all in the Smaller Theater categories.
On the larger theater side, New Century Theater Company’s “The Flick” (another Pulitzer Prize winning work, by Annie Baker) snagged nods for all three principal actors in the show plus Best Play and Best Director and 3 design noms for a total of 8. Book-It Repertory Theatre’s excellent adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel, “Slaughterhouse-Five” received 7 nominations including two for director/adapter Josh Aaseng as well as “triple play” recognition for the three actors who played the lead character at different ages in the play. Robert Bergin, Erik Gratton and Todd Jefferson Moore were jointly nommed as “young”, “middle aged” and “old” Billy Pilgrim.
Other impressive vote getters: ArtsWest Playhouse’s excellent (and hugely popular) production of Green Day’s “American Idiot” snagged 7 nominations and the Intiman Festival grabbed 6 nods for “Bootycandy” and another 3 nominations for their collaboration with The Williams Project on their unique take on Tennessee Williams’ “Orpheus Descending”.
Seattle Repertory Theatre led the nomination tally with a whopping 24 nominations. Besides “Come From Away” and “Lizard Boy”, the theater was also recognized for the sets for “The Comparables” and grabbed Best Director and Best Actor nominations for their hit comedy, “Buyer & Cellar”, the very gay solo show about a man who works for superstar Barbra Streisand.
You’ll find the full list of nominations below. For more information on the Gypsy Awards and Seattle Theater Writers, visit their Facebook page. The Gypsy Awards are the only Seattle theater accolades chosen by a panel of local theater critics. Theatre Puget Sound’s “Gregory Awards” use nominators to pick their nominees and allow their members to vote for the final winners. Misha Berson, the soon to retire theater critic at The Seattle Times, personally chose the “Footlight Awards” every year. It is not known if those awards will continue in the future.
Winners for the 2015 Gypsy Rose Lee Awards will be announced Wednesday, January 20, 2016 via the Seattle Theater Writers’ social media and the outlets of the STW members.
And, congratulations to all the nominees!