Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Night at the "Norties"

Towards the very end of the 2 hour Elliot Norton Awards ceremony on Monday night, MC Joyce Kulhawik referred to the awards as "the Norties". An actress near me bristled slightly, but I thought it was a great way to sum up the evening, a cross between reverent and eclectic, celebrating the 2009-2010 Boston theater season.
(Click here for all the nominees and winners)
This year, the show included performances from the three nominated musicals. The Gold Dust Orphans performed the production number "Masquerade" from Ryan Landry's Phantom of the Oprah to kick off the event in high style. Watching the company perform on that gorgeous stage gave a taste of the possibilities that lie ahead, when the Orphans have room to spread their wings, shake their tail feathers, and fly (in wigs and heels). SpeakEasy Stage Company presented a montage of pieces from the winning production, Adding Machine, once again showcasing an ensemble of gorgeous voices perfectly in tune with the sometimes atonal and off-putting score, dazzling when taken as a whole. Unfortunately, the producers chose to include a number from the ART's Best of Both Worlds the only way possible: by videotape. The bad sound made too many of the lyrics unintelligible.
Another unfortunate touch was the prerecorded playing of the Overture From Gypsy, the great show biz musical fable, accompanying every slide show of each category's nominees. By the second time, it got old.
Barry Rocklin did his usual best as the evening's piano accompanist, playing winners and presenters on and off. He tried his best to overplay the Gypsy opening from time to time but sadly that idea never took off.
The night's first award was presented to special guests Tony Shalhoub and Brooke Adams.
And now the Elephant in the Room.
They presented a Gracie Allen & George Burns/Abbott and Costello "Who's-On-First" inspired sketch-y routine, poor Brooke confused by who Elliot Norton was.
As the haughtiest of Brahmins might exclaim, "Ex-cuuuuuuuuuuuuse Me?"
We treat our Elliot with total and well earned reverence and respect. Confusing him for Ralph Kramden's sewer-mate Ed Norton was borderline offensive and not at all funny. It left me with the nagging question, why them, why now? Certainly Tony has spent many years as an actor at the ART, and created dazzling performances as one of the country's finest repertory actors, before taking Broadway and Television by storm. But I didn't understand what their place was in the evening. It did, however, allow for a great photo opp, especially with Cherry Jones present to celebrate Karen's night. (See photo, Brooke Adams, Cherry Jones, Tony Shalhoub, Karen MacDonald. © Leo Gozbekian Photography)
The presenters included last year's award winners, making for a nice sense of continuity from one season to the next.
Among the winning acceptance speeches, some of my personal favorites include:
-Larry Coen, funny and humble, sending a big shout out to the other Gold Dust Orphans director, Jim Byrne, who was unable to direct Phantom of the Oprah due to other scheduling commitments. (Before the show, Larry reminded me that he first met Ryan when I asked them to perform in a one-night "All-Star" benefit performance of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom that I directed in 2004, with a cast that included Ryan, Larry, Karen MacDonald, Maureen Keiller, John Kuntz, and Bobbie Steinbach, among others.)
-Olive Another, of the Gold Dust Orphans, ad-libbing through an acceptance speech for Jeffrey "Varla Jean Merman" Roberson (I ran into Olive
in front of the Paramount Center before the show, dressed in a reverse-dalmatian-spotted black and white sequined suit with a tasteful little slit up the back, a black beehive wig and heels. He told me that besides performing in the opening and hoping the Gold Dust Orphans would win one of the nominations they'd received, he was accepting the Outstanding Musical Performance if Jeffrey/Varla Jean won. But he didn't have anything from Jeffrey to say. "I'm waiting on a text.")
-Karen MacDonald, with her reading glasses, delivering a speech that was full of gratitude, humor, and inspiration, calling on the younger emerging artists to take a look at the "old guard" and take comfort in hearing from those who testify of the rewards of a life in the theater. (Carolyn Clay, who was a BU classmate of Karen's and acted with her in a Feydeau farce, presented the award with a lovely introduction, with personal remembrances and a professional run down of Karen's many career accomplishments. She also added, "To us, Elliot Norton was not just a name. He was our Teacher." A dig at the routine from the "special guests"?)
(Last year's StageSource Theatre Hero recipient, Rick Lombardo, became a leit-motif of humor throughout the evening. From all reports, Rick launched into a speech that I've heard ran anywhere from 15 to 25 (!) minutes long. The awards ceremony was peppered with jokes about Rick's speech, including an announcement from the podium that Rick was on the phone and had a few things to say).
The show was followed by a party in the Black Box Theater, a performance space off the upper lobby of the theater. Across a crowded room one could see the movers and shakers of Boston's theater community laughing, talking, "working", playing, letting down their hair and generally catching up. It was a great evening ...
Next up, the Other Great Event:
The 12th Annual Boston Theater Marathon Sunday, May 23,
from 12 noon to 10 pm.
50 ten-minute plays by 50 New England playwrights presented by 50 New England theater companies in 10 hours. Tickets are $20 in advance, $30 at the door. Click the link to learn more

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