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Things look up for longtime troupe Horizon at Suzi Awards, Atlanta’s Tonys

By Howard Pousner

Longtime Atlanta theater troupes have commanded headlines in recent months by making emergency appeals for cash to keep their doors open. But the 2011 Suzi Bass Awards, held Monday night at Oglethorpe University’s Conant Performing Arts Center, was about focusing the spotlight where directors, actors and crews would prefer it: the work.

On a glittery evening in which prizes for 25 categories for 2010-11 season plays and musicals were handed out, plus for four special categories, the veteran Little Five Points troupe Horizon Theatre Company gathered the most star-shaped trophies, with 10.

It was a big night for the midsize Atlanta troupe co-founded by Lisa and Jeff Adler in 1983. In its 27th season, it operates with a budget of less than $1 million in a no-frills performance space in a schoolhouse-turned-community center. Going into the awards, the troupe had 13 nominations for “Avenue Q,” the puppet-loving, coming-of-age Broadway musical whose rights were considered a coup for Horizon to snag.

Still run by the Adlers, Horizon has never carried an accumulated deficit, but it has taken some creative fundraising, especially recruiting individual donors, for the company to make it through the recession.

Midtown’s Alliance Theatre, which dominated the local version of the Tony Awards in 2010, was second with seven prizes. Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theatre took three statues, followed by Westside’s Actor’s Express and Marietta’s Theatre in the Square with two each.

The Alliance won best play production for “August: Osage County,” while Horizon won best musical production for “Avenue Q.”

In the special Suzi categories, Horizon also nabbed the Audience Choice Award for Outstanding Season; the Center for Puppetry Arts won the 2011 Spirit of Suzi Award, acknowledging long-term commitment to Atlanta’s theater scene; and Margaret Baldwin was honored with the Gene-Gabriel Moore Playwriting Award for “Night Blooms,” produced by Horizon.

In the major acting categories, Tess Malis Kincaid won lead play actress for “August: Osage County” at the Alliance; Eric J. Little, lead play actor for “Superior Donuts,” Horizon; Adrienne Reynolds, lead musical actress, “Gut Bucket Blues,” Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company; and Nick Arapoglou, lead musical actor, “Avenue Q,” Horizon. (Kincaid also took lead play actress honors last year, for “Good Boys and True” at Actor’s Express.)

In the directing categories, Alliance artistic director Susan V. Booth won for the play “August: Osage County,” and Heidi Cline McKerley accepted the musical prize for Horizon’s “Avenue Q.”

The Alliance’s “Bring It On: The Musical” was honored in the world premiere category. The musical is now in its first stop on a national tour at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre.

The Suzi Awards were launched in 2005 in honor of Bass, a spirited, earthy Atlanta actress with a sizable comic streak who died of a brain tumor in 2002 at age 56.

For a full list of nominees and winners:

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