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. (In my previous post, I listed my choices for Most Impressive Theatre Awards in the Community Theatre Division)  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.

Now, our choices for the Professional Theatre Division for 2019 (Please note that I define a Professional Theatre as one which is contracted with Actors Equity – plus the professional dance company – Dance Kaleidoscope.) Unless otherwise noted, the selections are from my roster of shows seen:

In the category – Most Impressive Set Design – Professional Theatre Division: What struck me most about Ann Sheffield’s beautiful and unique set design for Indiana Repertory Theatre’s A Doll House – Part 2 was the utilitarian starkness of it. What made it so special was how it asked the audience to use their imaginations to fill the gaps given its mere indications of walls, stairways and windows. On this and all accounts it was successful.

A scene from IRT’s “A Doll House – Part 2”, highlighting Ann Sheffield’s wonderful set.

In the category – Most Impressive Costume Design – Professional Theatre Division: Gregory Glade’s impressive costumes for Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s evocative production of Mr. Glade’s La Casa Azul – The Musical, were beyond powerful. From my review: “Visually, the entire piece is unfathomably vivid. The splendid Mexican themed costumes are set to play off one another as dancers sweep and swirl across the stage. These colorful arrangements add much to the feel of the event whether showing festival or fervor. Conversely, other costume themes of muted colors or pure white effectively augment the storytelling.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical –Professional Theatre Division: I’ve seen Logan Moore onstage numerous times and have always considered him a very accomplished performer, but I cannot say I have seen him any more animated for a role than he was as Orin Scrivello DDS, the sadistic dentist in Beef and Boards’ Little Shop of Horrors. “Totally embracing the comic book idea for his character, Moore bursts with highly comical movement and patter that stretches the ideal.”

Orin Scrivello DDS (Logan Moore) intimidates Seymour (Joey Boos) in a scene from B&B’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical –Professional Theatre Division: Beef and Boards’ 42nd Street is loaded with talented performers, but it is no surprise to name Sarah Hund for a Mitty again this year. “…the aging star, Dorothy Brock, (is) played to the hilt by B&B favorite, Sarah Hund. Ms. Hund’s undeniable talents are well featured here as she sails through her musical numbers with a seemingly effortless luster.”

In the category – Most Impressive “Actress” in a Supporting Role in a Musical –Professional Theatre Division: I am taking my reviewer’s artistic license out of my wallet and laying it next to my keyboard for this one. In a gender-bending selection – Daniel Klingler was undeniably impressive as Edna Turnblad in last summer’s Beef and Boards production of Hairspray. As described in my review: ‘she’ was a “marvelous spectacle”!

Daniel Klingler as Edna Turnblad in B&B’s “Hairspray”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play –Professional Theatre Division: Actors Theatre of Indiana’s production of Alabama Story is an eye-opening look at the prejudice that raged in the too recent South. Don Farrell’s State Senator Higgins is a deep dive into the characteristics that drove the region’s condition. From the review: “Farrell’s Senator Higgins is bombastic, self-righteous, and disagreeably immovable on his imagined dangers of segregation. Farrell keeps the fire going in his man without becoming a caricature, welding together the sure offensiveness of his ideas and the savvy smoothness of his political ploys.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Supporting Role in a Play – Professional Theatre Division: In IRT’s A Doll House – Part 2, Kim Staunton shines as Anne Marie, a household worker and nanny in the main characters’ home. “(Ms.) Staunton is marvelously inventive…Ms. Staunton’s strengths are her originality and creativity for a role which, in some hands, might have a much diminished effectiveness. She makes her Anne Marie interesting and thoughtful and empathetic.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor and Actress in Lead Roles in a Play – Professional Theatre Division: I have purposefully combined these two awards because I wish to honor Torsten Hillhouse and Mary Bacon as a duo. IRT’s Amber Waves is a plaintive tale of an Indiana farm family’s plight through a year of family issues, and crop problems. “It displays for us how decent people face the turmoil of life’s struggles, highlighting their assorted anxieties, sacrifices, small joys and tight budgets.” Hillhouse and Ms. Bacon do a remarkable job in their conveyances as a struggling farm couple. From the review: “Hillhouse has Mike’s farmer persona down to a T – with his loping stride, his hungdown attitude about most things that aren’t farm related, and his shy and prideful countenance. Ms. Bacon’s Penny is the peppy million-things-at-once wife and mom – holding together the family, supporting everyone through the crisis, while keeping her own dreams just slightly at bay. Both these fine actors are as genuine as you could imagine Indiana farmers to be, giving us a moving vision of the challenges our country’s farm families face.”

Mary Bacon and Torsten Hillhouse as farm couple Penny and Mike in IRT’s production of “Amber Waves”.

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Lead Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Joey Boos is perfection as Seymour in Beef and Boards’ Little Shop of Horrors. “The cast is led by Joey Boos as the nebbish Seymour. Perfectly filling the pitiful young man with endearing qualities of thankfulness and hope, Boos presents a character worthy of our empathy, even as he commits a series of very questionable actions. His top-notch singing talents add to our enjoyment.” 

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Lead Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division:  Kaylee Verble has every talent needed for a star-quality performance in B&B’s 42nd Street. “(Ms.) Verble makes her B&B debut in the role of Peggy Sawyer, and she certainly fits the part of the uber-talented small-town girl. Unassumingly reserved and energetically focused, Ms. Kaylee’s Peggy is just perfect for the 30’s storyline.”

Kaylee Verble (center) stars as Peggy Sawyer in Beef and Boards’ “42nd Street”.

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Play – Professional Theatre Division: Director Lisa Rothe does a masterful job creating the pathos with her actors and musicians in IRT’s Amber Waves, while sidestepping a fall into deep pitifulness. “(Ms.) Rothe has pulled together the talents of more than a few creative people to produce what I believe to be one of the best, most eloquent shows of the local theatre season.”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Gregory Glade has been directing, writing, choreographing, and redoing all those tasks numerous times, in his quest to perfect his production, La Casa Azul – The Musical. “As the third incarnation of (Mr.) Glade’s masterwork, the ambitious restaging features energetic dance, soaring vocals, and searing drama as it reveals the story of the life of noted Mexican visual artist, Frida Kahlo. This new edition may feature a refined resizing of cast and content, but it does not lose the show’s epic strengths of story and mood…It is full of emotions and beauty, it is moving and forceful, it succeeds in its themes and its depictions and its production values. I hope this work can continue to grow.”

A scene from Gregory Glade’s La Casa Azul – The Musical

In the category – Most Impressive Production of a Play – Professional Theatre Division: This year, it has to be a tie. What I count to be two very important and moving plays about our humanity were presented by IRT (James Still’s Amber Waves) and ATI (Kenneth Jones’ Alabama Story).

From the Amber Waves review: “Deeply poignant, without ever lapsing into sappiness, the story follows a year of high points and low edges as an Indiana farm family is caught in the cycle of the many costs and ellusive profits of American farming…Mr. Still’s work here rivals last season’s fine Appoggiatura. This is a must-see.

From the Alabama Story review: “Theatre can be, and is, many things. It entertains, it tells us stories, it teaches, it enlightens, it uncovers truths and it reminds us of important lessons. Kenneth Jones’ significant play, Alabama Story, does all these things…This play uncovers a sorry time in America, but it celebrates the strength to overcome which was also present at that time. It is an important story, showing the attitudes, the conflicting ideas and ideals, the politics, the ignorance – though it is certainly not entirely humorless. I hope you will go see it, and take a young person along – it might just cause some interesting conversation.”

In the category – Most Impressive Musical Production – Professional Theatre Division: The winner is B&B’s terrific 42nd Street. From the review: “I am afraid I may not have used enough superlatives to describe the gleaming extravaganza that B&B’s impressive 42nd Street is. The energetic cast provides a splendid array of musical entertainment that I doubt will be matched soon. Congrats to all involved in the effort. This is a true hit show!”

In the special category – Most Impressive Dance Performance – Professional Theatre Division: Dance Kaleidoscope’s presentation of George Gershwin’s masterpiece, in conjuction with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Matthew Kraemer, “Rhapsody in Blue” featuring pianist Drew Petersen was a highlight this year. “This is a work with many sections and the DK troupe expressed a myriad of ideas in showing choreographer David Hochoy’s explications. Some concepts work better than others, but those that ‘click’ are a joy to watch. For example, a famous section, the melodic interlude which Paul Whiteman adopted as his orchestra’s theme for many years, is presented as a formal dance – the men in blue tails and the women in billowing gowns (yet another nod to costumer Cheryl Spark’s prowess) as the dancers swirl as in a 1940’s musical number. It was unexpected, perfect, and refined. The long and thunderous standing ovation for all involved in the piece was well deserved.”

Dance Kaleidoscope dancers present a section of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”

In the special category – Most Impressive Music Performance – Professional Theatre Division: Part of the sensitive aura of IRT’s Amber Waves is provided by two musicians who separate the play’s scenes with their captivating music. “An essential piece of the onstage emotions and themes is brought out by the in-show musical recitals provided by Tim Grimm and Rachel Eddy. Grimm wrote the musical punctuations (along with Jason Wilber) – and his performances with Ms. Eddy are enchanting, especially their blending of voices. Ms. Eddy is proficient on violin, guitar, banjo and dulcimer – which adds much to the depth and richness of this important musical facet of the show.”

Wow! Once again, Mrs K and I got to see a lot of very fine theatre this past year.

Now for some honors from the cohort team:

Two from Adam Crowe

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Lead Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Lots to love about John Vessels in the Phoenix Theatre’s popular production of The Legend of Georgia McBride. From the review: “…the heart of the show belongs to John Vessels as the effervescent, ingenious and foul-mouthed Miss Tracy Mills. Vessels owns the stage and is simply perfection as the not-so-young-as-she-used-to-be Mills.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Lead Role in a Comedy – Professional Theatre Division: The inimitable Sarah Hund makes the absolute most of her comedic talents in Vino Veritas at Phoenix Theatre. “In her sophomore outing at the Phoenix, (Ms.) Hund is an absolute delight. Her turn as the under-appreciated Claire is worth the entire ticket price. In Hund’s hands, Claire is the most interesting of the four (characters) and the audience is constantly anticipating what she will do or say next.”

Now, if you haven’t read about the 2019 Mitty Awards in the Community Theatre Division, you’ll find it right before this entry.

So, that’s it for 2019. 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 so highly valued and so well performed.

  • photos by Julie Curry, Zach Rosing, Crowe’s Eye Photography, and various theatre companies