It’s time for the Ninth Annual Mitty Awards!

For those of you unfamiliar with the Mittys, this is something I have been doing since 2011 to celebrate and honor the Most Impressive Theatre that I have witnessed in the past calendar year. This year, my four cohorts – Larry Adams, Adam Crowe, Vickie Cornelius Phipps and Daniel Shock – and I reviewed 52 shows (a record!). In fact, the cohorts collectively covered almost 50% of those shows – so this year, I have asked them to submit some winners of their choice, to acknowledge the impressive theatre which they saw (and I missed) this year. We split the awards into two divisions: Community Theatre and Professional Theatre, my definition of professional theatre being those which work under an Actors Equity contract.

So, here goes. Unless otherwise noted, the selections are from my roster of shows seen:

In the category – Most Impressive Set Design at a small venue – Community Theatre Division: Mike Mellot takes the award again this year for his very impressive and complete beauty salon set which he designed for Mud Creek Players’ production of Steel Magnolias. Mellot’s eye for detail is noteworthy!

In the category – Most Impressive Set Design at a large venue – Community Theatre Division: Christine Peters’ set creations for Elf – The Musical at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre were “Broadway-level” in my opinion. Her designs for drop-in set pieces as well as any piece on wheels that was easily brought unto and off of the set were not only unique looking in their artistically “off reality” design qualities – they were made for amazingly quick and slick scene changes – always a winning aspect for this reviewer.

Christine Peters’ design for Santa’s Workshop in Civic Theatre’s production of “Elf- The Musical” is a good example of the style, depth and proportions she accomplished.

In the category – Most Impressive Costume Design – Community Theatre Division: The challenge of the colorful (and plentiful) costumes needed for Civic Theatre’s Elf – The Musical was indeed well met by Adrienne Conces and her team. Very impressive to me was the notion that so many of the supporting ensemble players had not just the 6-10 different costumes for their various roles, but they each had to do more than a few quick changes – which were also accomplished with aplomb.

In the category – Most Impressive Newcomer – Community Theatre Division: Three winners this year: Eighth grader Ben Boyce impressed twice in two very diverse roles. First, last February as Dill in Civic Theatre’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird, then recently, as Michael in the same company’s Elf _ The Musical. In the former, he “was well cast as Dill, whose mannerly creativity in finding innocent mischief is adroitly portrayed.” Then as a musical performer – his singing performances with “his mother” Carrie Neal were “top-notch performances.”

Also very impressive was Emily Chrzanowski as 12 year old Les in Civic Theatre’s Newsies. Ms. Chrzanowski was a wonderful surprise – from the review: “She makes the very most of her part, bashing heads, delivering great comic timing, and I was stunned to see in her bio that she is 16 years old. She at once seems older and younger than that. Maybe 16 is just right.”

Last but not least, Colin McCabe took on the important, very physical role of Buddy in The Switch Theatre’s The Diviners and brought home a winning performance. “… young actor Colin McCabe is up to the task, giving a remarkably focused performance. He throws himself completely into the role which results in a believability factor which is sharp.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play – Community Theatre Division: In The Switch Theatre’s The Diviners, Dan Flahive turns in an exceptionally accurate depiction as a larger-than-life Basil – a farmer who does a little “doctoring” on the side for the small community where the action takes place. From the review: “It is almost as if Flahive has stepped out of an Indiana cornfield to be in the play, his accent and manner are so genuine.”

Gwendolen Fairfax (Carrie A. Schlatter) and John “Ernest” Worthing (Ethan Mathias) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”.

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Supporting Role in a Play – Community Theatre Division: From Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest, Carrie A. Schlatter, who plays Gwendolen Fairfax, was most impressive. “Ms. Schlatter is always a marvel to watch – her innate skills of timing and characterization are a true pleasure.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical – Community Theatre Division: One of the essential characters in Civic Theatre’s presentation of Elf -The Musical is, of course, Santa Claus. Parrish Williams takes on the role – and effortlessly knocks it out of the stadium. His updated, wryly humorous Santa is exactly what the production needed. 

Santa (Parrish Williams) and Buddy the Elf (Matt Bays) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Elf – The Musical”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical – Community Theatre Division: Civic Theatre’s production of Newsies had more than few wonderful performances – but Tiffany Gilliam as Medda Larkin rose to the top of the heap. From the review: “When Tiffany Gilliam started singing ‘That’s Rich’… I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped. She gives a performance that makes you question life….Why is she not a star?”

Medda Larkin (Tiffany Gilliam) entertains the crowd in a scene from Civic Theatre’s production of “Newsies”

In the category – Most Impressive Ensemble in a Play – Community Theatre Division: Any of the 4 major cast members of Mud Creek Players’ Almost Maine could be a likely winner for the singular Most Impressive Actor (or Actress) Award this year – but the framework of the play is ensemble oriented, so I have awarded them all as the best in that category. Scene after scene, this troupe comprised of Mason Odle, Jennifer Poynter, Matt Hartzburg and Krysten Lyster held our rapt attention with their impressive work interpreting the varied vignettes in John Cariani’s brilliant play about love. From the review: “All these scenes come off so well due to the fine work of the director and the actors – it would be impossible to presume to name a best one…”

In the category – Most Impressive Performer in a Lead Role in a Comedy – Community Theatre Division: Rather an easy choice for this award: Daniel Shock, who portrayed the iconic role of Elwood P. Dowd in Improbable Fiction Theatre Company’s production of Harvey by Mary Chase. From the review: “Shock is a wonderful choice for the Elwood part, he makes the man a cheerfully amiable gent, squarely capturing what I can presume was Ms. Chase’s intent. Shock’s timing and delivery are perfect for the softly tender humor Elwood conveys, and his mannerisms are spot-on.  For the most part, he is able to create his own version of Dowd, apart from the iconic film depiction.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Lead Role in a Drama – Community Theatre Division: Earl Campbell always impresses me, and many others, with his portrayals. His work as wayward preacher, C.C. Showers in The Switch Theatre’s The Diviners once more led the way. From the review: “Earl Campbell takes the C.C. Showers part and shows his unquestionable grasp of theatrical artistry. His nuanced and honest interpretation of the man’s challenges and gifts is a joy to witness.”

Jackie (Nan Macy) and her daughter Rachel (Morgan Morton) share a difficult moment in “Lear’s Shadow”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Lead Role in a Drama – Community Theatre Division: Nan Macy was strong in her offering as Jackie in First Folio’s Bard Fest production of Lear’s Shadow. “(Ms.) Macy shows Jackie’s full menu of emotions with heightened skills. She plays Lear’s part to prodigious effect, often thundering through the lines. She plays Jackie’s interior dismay with all the correct clicks of confusion, conflict and a dash of dementia. Ms. Macy is a larger than life talent. She delivers a knock-out portrayal of her troubled yet brilliant thespian.”

In the category – Most Impressive Performer in a Lead Role in a Musical – Community Theatre Division: While I attended only 5 musicals put on by community theatre companies, I came away with two young actresses whom I thought to be most impressive. The first would be Audrey Scrogham, who took the part of Katherine in Agape Performing Arts Company’s Newsies. From the review: “I loved collegiate music major Audrey Scrogham’s entire, very professional performance. As Katherine, her solo ‘Watch What Happens’ was knocked out of the park and was a definite highlight of the show. Ms. Scrogham’s later duet with Jacob Brant, the tender ‘Something to Believe In’, was also a high point. She shined in her acting scenes, as well.”

Secondly, there was Cynthia Kauffman from Summer Stock Stage’s Thoroughly Modern Millie. “(Ms.) Kauffman positively glistens as a vibrant Millie. She is more than up to the task in this demanding role. Her full-ranged vocal skills are just one aspect of her talents, and she makes the most of every one of her character’s songs – from the peppy title tune, to the complicated “Jimmy”, and the show-stopping “Forget About the Boy”, which she shares with the Stenogs ensemble.”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Comedy – Community Theatre Division: Andrea Odle shows a great sensitivity to her material in her debut direction of Mud Creek Players’ Almost Maine, one of my all time favorite scripts. The play is a delicious mix of comedy and poignancy, and Ms. Odle leads her actors to spot on performances on all accounts. “Let me just say that I am especially thrilled to have seen this play which I love so much – done so well.”

Kyrsten Lyster and Matt Hatzburg in a scene from “Almost Maine” called ‘Getting It Back’.

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Drama – Community Theatre Division: Emily Rogge Tzucker directed Civic Theatre’s very important production of To Kill a Mockingbird with a rich understanding of what was significant in the piece. The style she chose to tell the story was stark and basic, a brilliant choice. “…the show is rendered in as direct a manner as I have seen it done. By that I mean: the prevailing style of storytelling employed by the cast is realistic, without much added drama “flavoring”, and perhaps more importantly – it is fashioned as a simply told enlightenment.”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction/Choreography of a Musical – Community Theatre Division: What did Civic Theatre’s productions of Newsies, Mamma Mia, and Elf – The Musical share in common? All of the choreography – and the direction of Mamma Mia – came to life through the amazing theatrical skills of one Anne Beck. Her choreographic ideas are stunningly unique and pleasing. From the Newsies review: “The choreography by Anne Beck was thrilling and so very impressive. (I watched to see if I could catch anyone a half step behind the others…but found nothing. Everyone was in perfect lock step.)” From Mamma Mia: (This) “offering is especially notable for what I felt was a great deal of originality provided by director/choreographer Anne Beck’s vision…Ms. Beck does a remarkable job in forming this unlikely story…” From Elf – The Musical: “Ms. Beck’s choreography certainly is a superior aspect throughout the show – and one must praise her dancers for their high mark efforts.”

In the category – Most Impressive Production of a Comedy – Community Theatre Division: Mud Creek Players’ Almost Maine was a treasure to behold. Certainly, my affinity for the material aids my selection process, but very often that leads to high expectations. Those expectations were met by cast and crew as the production was remarkable from start to finish. From the review: “Andrea Odle’s directorial debut with MCP’s Almost Maine is an unmitigated success. Her choices for her actors and for the production in general were both innovative and correct. Furthermore, the quality of acting is seamlessly superior. The result is a wonderfully full entertainment which is a must see! This is top-notch community theatre!”

In the category – Most Impressive Production of a Drama – Community Theatre Division: The Switch Theatre’s The Diviners wins this category.  “…the entire company moves through the storytelling with clarity and polish, smoothly engaging us in the fantastic tale. This is a quality production and (director) Ms. Raffel (is) to be congratulated.”

at center: Millie (Cynthia Kauffman) leads the cast in the “Thoroughly Modern Millie” number.

In the category – Most Impressive Production of a Musical – Community Theatre Division: A surprise this year, as Summer Stock Stage’s Thoroughly Modern Millie rose above all the rest. Regardless that SSS is a youth theatre endeavor, the show was, in my opinion, the most completely impressive musical production this past year. From my review: “Beautifully blended voices (the work of musical director Michael Berg Raunick) and precise dance combinations (from the minds of choreographers Cherri Jaffee and Lily Wessel) provide one show-stopper after another in this dazzling production…this is just a terrific show produced by a terrific theatre company – spectacular from the top on down. Director Emily Ristine Holloway has a special set of talents for leading these kids – albeit, very talented individuals – through the process of putting on high level productions. The young peoples’ abilities are used in a most adroit way and in my opinion, the results are a highlight of Indy’s theatre season.”

Now for some honors from the cohort team:

Two from Larry Adams

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Lead Role – Community Theatre Division: Indy Bard Fest 2019 offered up a host of wonderful performances this year, but none so mesmerizing as that of Brian G. Hartz in the titular role of Hamlet, presented by Carmel Theatre Company. As I wrote in my review: “I truly cannot imagine a more dynamic yet nuanced performance – amateur or professional- than the virtual acting clinic put on by Brian G. Hartz Thursday night…   He completely inhabits the character and soars through the wild range of emotions and intensities the character requires… If any Indy-area actors want to see how it’s all supposed to be done, this is the place and he’s the guy.”

“To be or not to be…” – Brian G. Hartz takes the title role in Carmel Theatre Company’s production of “Hamlet” at Bard Fest 2019.

In the special category – Most Impressive Use of Symbolism – Community Theatre Division: The final tableau from Center Stage’s production of The Laramie Project, a fence with all the actors’ shoes hanging over it on a starry night looking out over the city lights of Laramie, Wyoming. From my review: “…the final tableau presented on stage, after the actors have exited, the applause has died, and the lights have dimmed, is simultaneously chilling and sad and beautiful and horrible – and, I’m afraid, will both haunt me and impress me for years to come…” 

Two from Vickie Cornelius Phipps:

In the category – Most Impressive Lead Actor in a Musical – Community Theatre Division: Onis Dean impressed in his role as Jesus in Mud Creek Players ambitious production of Jesus Christ Superstar. “Onis Dean is ​phenomenal as Jesus. His demeanor and impressively clear tenor range draws us in, and shows off his range, whether he’s screaming at the vendors in the temple or displaying his lightly placed falsetto of emotion in Gethsemane.”

The Last Supper scene begins the second act of Mud Creek Players’ production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” – Onis Dean, center, portrays Jesus.

In the category – Most Impressive Performer in a Lead Role in a Comedy – Community Theatre Division:  Joe Aiello enlivens the role of Nunzio in Westfield Playhouse’s Over the River and Through the Woods. From the review: (Nunzio was) “masterfully played by the endearing Joe Aiello. Both (he and Jan McGill as his wife Emma) were so much fun to watch as the long-time married couple who may complain about each other, but are still very much in love.”

Two from Daniel Shock:

In the category – Most Impressive Youth Production: The Tempest, as performed at Bard Fest by the Agape Performing Arts Company was a marvel. Directed by Kathy Phipps, the performances, the costumes, the make-up were all far better than most adult productions. It was a magical evening and I look forward to seeing anything this group does in the future.”

Paul Haskin brings the Porter to life in a scene from NCAC’s production of “Macbeth”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama – Paul Haskin as the Porter in Macbeth at Noblesville’s Shakespeare in the Park. Paul was only onstage a brief time, but what an impression he made! From the review: “Paul Haskin, whom I have never seen on stage before, was an utter delight as the Porter. He brought some much-needed humor to the evening. He was outstanding.” He was terrifically funny and certainly brought some lightness to a very heavy play.

Congratulations to all the winners! Once again, I encourage my readers to continue to go out and see the outstandingly memorable shows and performances in community theatres all around the Greater Indianapolis area! They have a lot to offer at some very reasonable ticket prices.

Now, if you like, you can read about the 2019 Mitty Awards in the Professional Theatre Division. You’ll find it right after this entry.

  • Photos by Michael Camp, Zach Rosing, Antonio Chapital, and various theatre companies