It’s time for the 10th annual Mitty Awards!

2020 has been a year like none other. Most theatres suffered extended shutdowns, lost revenue, trashed schedules and uncertainty for the future. In mid-March, when most production companies halted their output, we had attended a surprising number of productions to start the year off, only to be left off at that point save for two brave shows we gained invitations to. Furthermore, we completely missed celebrating our 10th anniversary online.

I know the entire Indianapolis theatre community, both professional and avocational, long for a full restart to our amazing theatre scene. I truly hope that 2021 will prove to be a banner year of great new shows and renewed attendance.

So it is from a very limited sample of 9 professional offerings that we present 2020’s Most Impressive Theatre winners: (Please note, some categories have, out of necessity, been left off the list this year.)

In the category – Most Impressive Set Design – Professional Theatre Division: IRT’s production of Murder on the Orient Express was, among other things, a wonder for the eyes. The set by Robert M. Koharchik was truly astonishing in it’s polish and proficiency. From the review: “Pivoting on a large 3 sectioned turntable, the design allows for: 1) a general area used for the opening Istanbul hotel scenes as well as subsequent less-specific onboard areas, 2) a set of three train compartments where much of the action is featured, and 3) a dining room style area with tables and chairs where many scenes of Poirot’s investigative interviews take place. These diverse areas are all fashioned with luxurious details: richly crafted wood paneling and shiny brass appointments – fine points of the opulence that was a special quality of the Orient Express. Finally a set of “windows” rises at the rear, indicating the scene’s whereabouts, whether it be in Istanbul, on the moving Express, or stuck in the snows of a mountain pass.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical –Professional Theatre Division: Kyra Leeds wins this category for her heartfelt portrayal of Tony’s “wanna-be” girlfriend, Annette in Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of Saturday Night Fever. Her rendition of “If I Can’t Have You” was a winner: “Soulfully offered by (Ms.) Leeds, the slower form resonates more fully as a sorrowful reaction than the original disco beat version would and is one of the highlights of the show.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical –Professional Theatre Division: Mario Almonte III lit up the stage as Adolpho Pirelli in ATI’s lavish Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The precision of his characterization was a delight to behold, as he took over the stage in his scenes.

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Supporting Role in a Play – Professional Theatre Division: From Beef and Boards’ production of Steel Magnolias, Deb Wims gave a sparkling performance as beauty shop operator Truvy. “(Ms.) Wims proves she is more than purely a musical performer with a terrific turn… Ms. Wims delves into the lady’s fun-loving nature with a genuine touch of lowdown southern spunk.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actor in a Lead Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Actors Theatre of Indiana’s spectacular offering of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street featured the most dynamic performance of the year. “Don Farrell leads the proceedings in the title role with a Broadway level performance. His talents are undeniable as he ranges through the Barber’s many levels and emotions, never failing to capture the incessant passion of his vengeful heart.”

In the category – Most Impressive Actress in a Lead Role in a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Beef and Boards’ February production of Saturday Night Fever introduced us to the charms and talents of Amanda Tong. “As Tony’s comely dance partner – Stephanie Mangano, Ms. Tong brings her remarkable talents to the fore and is also quite striking.” 

In the category – Most Impressive Actor and Actress in Lead Roles in a Play – Professional Theatre Division: Phoenix Theatre’s thoughtful The Agitators shows the remarkable friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. Lauren Briggeman plays Susan B. Anthony and Jerome Beck handles Frederick Douglass. They accomplish near perfection. “Their portrayals extend out from the stage, into our minds (and hearts), with flawless clarity. Both leaders are offered with strong convictions, yet it is details of their frailties that complete the richness of the portrayals.”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Play – Professional Theatre Division: Director Mikael Burke finds a trove of deep truth for his actors to work through in Phoenix Theatre’s The Agitators by Mat Smart.In the end, it is the connection between these two important Americans that is most abundantly played. There is support, there is understanding, there is love for each other’s cause and personage. The actors’ dynamic turns precisely show these facets of the Douglass/Anthony friendship, which many of us never knew existed.”

In the category – Most Impressive Direction of a Musical – Professional Theatre Division: Faced with restaging ATI’s Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, from his original small stage concept (for ATI’s Studio Theatre) into an expansive setting (the huge Palladium stage in Carmel), director Robert J. Roberts’ inventiveness and his allowance of the audience’s imagination made the changeover a seamless endeavor.

In the category – Most Impressive Production of a Play – Professional Theatre Division: Phoenix Theatre presented a remarkably effective story with their production of the history laden The Agitators. “Playwright Smart has said that his aim in imagining the discussions engaged in by these two agents-for-change is to resist putting them on a pedestal, as they themselves were fighters for opportunity on a level basis. His research into their lives and personalities has afforded him the confidence to create a piece that relates not only their ideas and conflicts, but also their true personalities, i.e. – Douglass’ charisma and Ms. Anthony’s tenacity.”

In the category – Most Impressive Musical Production – Professional Theatre Division: Two very dissimilar presentations tie in this category both from ATI: their expanded production of Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and their two man mystery show – Murder for Two. In the former, the impressive cast matched the oversized venue stage in energy and vision. augmented by Janna Hymes’ apt leadership of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra (and the Indianapolis Arts Chorale). The immensely complex Sondheim score came through with flawless precision.

Murder for Two was another matter: “two talented performers, collaborating on stage for 90+ minutes, offering a cleverly silly musical murder mystery – one playing a police detective wannabe, the other portraying a literal room full of people, both playing the piano… Directed by Tony Clements, with musical direction by Stephen Goers, the adept duo (Adam Lasalle, as Officer Marcus Moscowicz and David Corlew, as everyone else in the room) exhibit crisp and precise comedic skills and over-the-top musical talents for the cartoonishly hilarious, madcap paced, endlessly ingenious musical comedy.”

That will do it for this year’s awards. Congrats to all those who were included, and a thank you to all the city’s professional performers. I know this has been an impossible year and I join everyone in the hope that we will be able to get back to some normalcy soon.