By Howard Pousner
The Alliance Theatre, metro Atlanta’s largest troupe in terms of budget and reach, dominated the 2010 Suzi Bass Awards, but several groups went home happy with multiple star-shaped trophies at the local version of the Tony Awards.
Coming in a year in which theater companies have had one hand extended for donations to pay down deficits while trimming budgets with the other, Monday night’s glossy ceremony at Oglethorpe University’s Conant Performing Arts Center felt positively celebratory and hardly competitive.
Still, there were prizes for 25 categories for 2009-10 season plays and musicals to be handed out, and Midtown’s Alliance hauled in seven. Suburban theaters fared particularly well, with Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theatre, Marietta’s Theatre in the Square and Marietta’s Atlanta Lyric Theatre tied for second after the Alliance, along with downtown Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit and westside’s Actor’s Express. Each earned three Suzis, while Little 5 Points’ Horizon Theatre won two. Atlanta Lyric grabbed one of the bigger plums, outstanding musical production, for “Hairspray.”
In special Suzi categories, the Audience Choice Award for Outstanding Season went to Actor’s Express; Rosemary Newcott, the Alliance’s artistic director of Theatre for Youth, won the 2010 Spirit of Suzi Award; and Janece Shaffer was honored with the Gene-Gabriel Moore Playwriting Award for “Brownie Points,” produced by Theatrical Outfit.
Several of the winners addressed connections within and across the racial divide in the Atlanta and the South, including “Brownie Points”; Horizon’s revival of “Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery” (outstanding play production and play costume design for Nyrobi Moss); and Music-Dramatic Arts Inc.’ “I Dream” (outstanding world premiere).
Wiping away tears, Horizon co-founder Lisa Adler told the crowd that she was proud to work in a city “where black and white sit by side by side” in theater audiences and work together backstage and onstage. “That’s what Atlanta gives the world.”
“Shakin’ the Mess” was a remounting of Shay Youngblood’s sisterhood-lovin’ 1988 world premiere, this time featuring two of the original actresses (Margo Moorer, Marguerite Hannah) and newcomer Amber Iman (Moorer’s daughter who was a green-room toddler at the time of the original staging). “I Dream,” a musical based on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. by London barrister-turned-Atlanta-playwright Douglas Tappin, was a world premiere performed on the Alliance’s main stage during summer break.
“We felt the love from the nominations actually,” London-based Musical-Dramatic Arts co-producer Dej Mahoney said after the ceremony, as winners and supporters toasted each other in the crowded lobby. “But the scale of the endorsement, the vindication of the dream we realized, keeps growing.”
Mahoney and Tappin, in fact, were in New York last week talking to producers about a potential transfer of the musical to the Big Apple next year.
Here’s how the big acting categories shook out: Tess Malis Kincaid won lead play actress for “Good Boys and True” at Actor’s Express; E. Roger Mitchell, lead play actor for “The Sunset Limited,” Theatrical Outfit; Ingrid Cole, lead musical actress, “A Catered Affair,” Aurora Theatre; Glenncq Rainey, lead musical actor, “Hairspray,” Atlanta Lyric Theatre.
In the directing categories, Jessica Phelps West won for the play “The Sunset Limited” at Theatrical Outfit, and Freddie Ashley took the musical prize for “Grey Gardens” at Actor’s Express.
The Suzi Awards were launched in 2005 in honor of Bass, a spirited, earthy Atlanta actress with a huge comic streak who died of a brain tumor in 2002 at age 56.