Mitty Awards 2017

So – in my previous post I listed my choices for Most Impressive Theatre Awards in the Community Theatre Division. Now, my choices for the Professional Theatre Division for 2017 (Please note that I define a Professional Theatre as one which is contracted with Actors Equity – plus this year I have added the professional dance company – Dance Kaleidoscope)

In the category – Most Impressive Set Design – Professional Theatre Division : The award this year goes to Ryan Koharchik for his design of the set for IRT’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Koharchik fills the immense OneAmerica Mainstage with a detailed rendering of the opulent Drayton family home including an “outdoor” patio. The 30 foot high walls give the illusion of soaring glass windows and a magnificent view of over San Francisco Bay.

entire cast

Ryan Koharchik’s magnificent set design for IRT’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

In the category – Most Impressive Costume Design – Professional Theatre Division:  Cheryl Sparks designs costumes for nearly every dancer in every performance that Dance Kaleidoscope presents. Her designs meet the special requirements of having not only the look that fits the story the choreographer is trying to tell, it also meets form and functionality needs. In the 2 years of DK shows I have had the privilege to see, she has never missed in that task. However, her costume designs for the first act piece in DK’s December 2017 presentation of World of Christmas entitled Ceremony of Carols were especially impressive. In my review I wrote: “Ceremony of Carols…opens with an immediate impression of purity and light as the dancers arrive… wearing costumer Cheryl Sparks’ varietal immaculate white creations.”

In the category – Most Impressive Newcomer – Professional Theatre Division: When I first saw Dalyn Stewart on the Studio 15 stage in December 2014 for a Carmel Theatre Company production of A Child’s Christmas in Wales” I was very impressed by the young mans stage presence and manner, noting his “surprisingly pleasing talent”. Indeed, he won the Mitty that year as “Most Impressive Newcomer – Community Theatre Division”. Jump ahead 3 years and here he is again, a newcomer in the professional theatre division for his work as the shipwrecked Phillip in IRT’s The Cay. Appearing on stage with seasoned actor David Alan Anderson in this two man story, young Stewart gave a notable performance. I wrote “Mr. Stewart is perfect as Phillip. His having to play a major portion of the role with a harsh disability is taken quite in stride. …I am always impressed with his pleasing command of a youthful theatrical presence, which he again offers in this portrayal. He has natural skills and we can only hope to see these develop over time.”

In the category – Most Impressive Performer in a Supporting Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: From Beef and Boards’ fine production of Ghost The Musical, I feel Renée Jackson deserves the nod in this category. As psychic medium Oda Mae Brown, “Ms. Jackson’s far-fetched (portrayal) is delightful, and exquisitely extreme, adding a comic touch to a most often poignant story.” We hope to see more of Ms. Jackson on Indianapolis stages.

In the category – Most Impressive Performer in a Supporting Role by an Actor in a Comedy – Professional Theatre Division: Beef and Boards’ led off the 2017 season with the beauty salon comedy, Shear Madness. Daniel Klingler’s over the top turn as flamboyant shop owner, Tony Whitcomb, was played to the absolute hilt, and provided many of the comic moments in a very comical play.

In the category – Most Impressive Performer in a Supporting Role by an Actress in a Comedy – Professional Theatre Division: From IRT’s Boeing, Boeing: Elizabeth Ledo hits the mark as a much put-upon housekeeper. “(Ms.) Ledo wins the audience’s hearts as…Berthe, savoring every last bit of her character’s grumbling nature.” Her fantastic comic timing and facial expressions made this a memorable performance.

Boeing 2

Greta Wohlrabe (Gretchen) and Elizabeth Ledo (Berthe) in IRT’s 2017 production of “Boeing Boeing”.

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Lead Role – Professional Theatre Division: Here begins the ‘unprecedented’ section of this year’s awards – Part 1: Three very impressive actresses vied for this award in my notes, and I simply could not decide on any to leave out. To me that just means that there was a lot of impressive performing out there this year. So, for the first time in 7 years of Mitty Awards – a three way tie – they are: Katy Gentry, for her performance as Garland in ATI’s Beyond the Rainbow; Annie Yokum, for her portrayal as Judy in the same production; and Karaline Feller, who played Jenny Steinberg – the sister of the bride in ATI’s It Shoulda Been You.

First Ms. Gentry, who was so like Judy Garland in her role, you had to know she studied the woman quite thoroughly. I wrote: “Ms. Gentry rolls through the Garland concert catalog not merely expertly sounding as Ms. Garland did – her rendering of the singer is enhanced with all the stage mannerisms and indeed even the “look” of the celebrated star. Ms. Gentry’s undeniable vocal talents are a significant piece of the portrayal, but her acting abilities carry us into the presence of Judy Garland.”

Ms. Yokum, as the younger Judy, “provides a struggling ‘Judy’, the post-Andy Hardy Garland in the story, (and) has her character’s voice and style mastered….Ms. Yokom’s performance is intense and evocative, imparting the often rougher side of her character’s career as a star. Her outstanding singing talent is on display in several numbers and again, the spot-on replication of Garland is uncanny.”

Karaline Feller provided a truly sympathy-inducing characterization as the often left behind sister of the bride. But it is not only her acting talents that are impressive. “Ms. Feller uses her beautiful, and powerful, vocal talents on a wide array of songs – comic, gritty, soulful and tender – and does so with impressive acuity.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Lead Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Unprecedented selection – Part 2. These awards are normally given as appreciations of performances I have witnessed from the seats. On this occasion however, the most impressive performance I saw in this category this year was by an actor with whom I shared the stage. Anyone who saw Don Farrell as Albin/Zaza in ATI’s amazing La Cage aux Folles would have to agree with me that his performance was in the stratosphere in terms of emotion, comedic form and singing/dancing skills. It was truly my pleasure to nightly watch the characterizations Farrell rendered and to see how hard he works at his craft to get those results. From the ASOTA review by Adam Crowe: “…the show belongs to Farrell’s Albin, and he is the star of this vehicle. Whether he is flirting with the club’s clientele as Zaza or blubbering as Albin, Farrell is simply perfection. To anyone who saw him play Sweeny Todd or the Baker in Into the Woods, this comes as no surprise. Farrell is a joy to watch.”

Michael Humphrey, Greg Grimes, Tim Hunt, Kenny Shepard and Don Farrell - photo credit - Zach Rosing

From left: Michael Humphrey, Greg Grimes, Tim Hunt, Kenny Shepard are La Cagelles with Don Farrell as Zaza (center) in ATI’s a Cage aux Folles”

In the category – Most Impressive Musical Performance – Professional Theatre Division: As I did last year, I must give this honor to a group of performers who came together in a production to, as an ensemble, create a most enjoyable, toe-tapping, emotion-choking set of songs and performances. From Beef and Boards’ Ring of Fire, which I described as a “biological revue” of the life of Johnny Cash,  the cast included B&B newcomers Melody Allegra Berger, Tim Drake, Allison Kelly, Jeremy Sevelovitz, Travis Smith and Zack Steele, plus B&B veterans Brian Gunter and Jill Kelly Howe. From the review: “The wonderfully organized production benefits from the unique cast which has been assembled for it, most of whom make their B&B debuts. The requirements to be in the cast must have been: 1) have recording contract quality vocal talent, 2) be able to play a multitude of stringed instruments, plus a few others, 3) have the exceptional ability to show that you are having so much fun onstage, that we all want you to never stop.”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Non-musical – Professional Theatre Division: Directed by Skip Greer, IRT’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was presented as a compelling and balanced look at the problems of race in America. While the play itself takes a tack of showing rather than telling what solutions might be possible, a further light touch in the combined portrayals made this production all the more appealing. “In what I think is one of the best sets of conflicts and circumstances in modern theatre, the full cast joins in force for a smooth and engaging depiction of this crisis situation…This is a superior group of actors, presenting a compelling and truly still significant conundrum. I cannot see how it could have been performed any better.”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Director Bill Jenkins and musical director Brent Marty (and choreographer Carol Worcel) share this award. ATI’s It Shoulda Been You was a bold choice to produce here in Central Indiana, and dare I say, the production faced a variety of responses for its portrayal of love in the 21st century. But as striking as the message of this show is, the direction of the actors and actresses, indeed the entire ‘tone’ of the show, was never anything but an exercise in doing a quality job on a well-written show. I applaud the venture and the undertaking. “Filled with amazing songs, a tremendously funny plot-line, and a jaw-dropping surprise twist, the show – which was tightly directed by Bill Jenkins and musical director Brent Marty, with choreography by Carol Worcel – again proclaims ATI’s penchant for incredible hits.”

In the category – Most Impressive Dramatic Production – Professional Theatre Division: Okay, I am going to use some critic’s license here. Although there were many songs in this production, it could be argued that ATI’s Beyond the Rainbow was very much a dramatic depiction of the life of Judy Garland. The songs were such a part of her life and they were presented as a part of that life, not as an expression of a character’s inner feelings or ideals. Therefore, for the purpose of this award at least, I am thinking of the show as a dramatic production. And it was a fine one. The depiction of the various  characters from the singer’s circle fell to an extremely talented trio of actors – Grace Sell, Dave Ruark, and Roger Ortman, who played Garland’s parents, husbands, bosses and cohorts. Add young Miss Anjali Rooney’s spirited turn as “Girl Judy”, along with the already noted contributions of Annie Yokom and Katy Gentry, and you have a completely wonderful cast of players who managed to present this highly compelling and entertaining story of the mega-star’s life, with impressive results.


(From left) Annie Yokom, Katy Gentry and Anjali Rooney star as Judy, Garland and Girl Judy in ATI’s production of “Over the Rainbow”.

In the category – Most Impressive Musical Production – Professional Theatre Division: What was most impressive to me about Ring of Fire is that it had the feel of a touring show rather than one of Beef and Boards’ in-house productions. The talented cast of singers, who were also players and actors, too, came together for the usual 10 or so days of rehearsal which productions normally are built in at B&B, and managed to become a cohesive band of story-tellers by opening night. From the review: “In fact, their stage presence and easy delivery throughout may have you thinking that they have all been touring this show together for 10 months or more. But that is not the case – they have somehow acquired a remarkable cohesion, which makes the program ever more enjoyable.” Furthermore, one of the cast members, Jill Kelly Howe, who is usually employed as the theatre costumer, was asked to come in and replace one performer with 2 or 3 days of preparation. My friend Jill did amazingly well and was one of my favorites in the show!

Oh Come Angel Band

The entire cast blends their voices for “Come Angel Band” in B&B’s production of “Ring of Fire”.

So, that’s it for 2017. If you have read this far, I thank you. As always, I encourage you to continue to go out and see wonderful shows and performances in both professional and community theatres in the Greater Indianapolis area! We are so lucky to live in an area where the theatrical arts are highly valued and well performed.