February 7, 2008

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NH Theatre Awards’ sixth year
One extremely polished pissing contest
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

I’m not talking about the awards competition itself, but rather an ingenious idea to put two different casts of Urinetown on stage together as one of the performances interspersed among trophy presentations at the sixth annual New Hampshire Theatre Awards, Saturday, Feb. 2, at Manchester’s Palace Theatre.

Music and Drama Company, based in Derry, had their mostly adult cast on stage with the teens from Nashua’s educational theater, Peacock Players, in something of an act-off. The fast-paced song-and-dance scene they came up with had the two leads singing together and alternating lines. At times there was so much activity on stage you didn’t know where to look. The nonprofessional groups were probably equally talented, but their performances weren’t carbon copies.

This year’s show included lots of AV, such as a video feed from cofounder Matty Gregg and a slide show of images and video from best-production nominees.

The show has often kicked off with a number from George Piehl and Scott Severance, but this year, Severance, who normally does much of the directing and writing for the show, was busy performing as Captain Hook in Peter Pan at Wheelock Family Theater in Boston. Instead, guest artist Horace Rogers performed a duet with Jodi Katz from Mark Schoenfeld’s Brooklyn. The Manchester resident’s show made it to Broadway, and he spoke at the awards.

The winners...

Although Two Rooms didn’t do so well on ticket sales — maybe the summer lake crowd just couldn’t get in the right mood for a hostage drama — Winnipesaukee Playhouse took six professional awards for the show, including best play.

The Barnstormers also did well in the professional categories. The summer stock group returned to the podium five times to accept awards including best musical and best original production, both for Slow Dance with a Hot Pick Up by John Pielmeier and Matty Selman. “Support theater, support the arts ... support original work,” said Clayton Phillips after receiving the award for best director of a professional musical.

Although a runner up, Yellow Taxi Production’s premiere of Six Nights in the Black Belt did not win a best original for Nashua playwright Lowell Williams. But Raphael Rawlins did win a best supporting actor for his performance in the play. YTP were runners up in seven other categories.

Although the young Pirate Stage’s season was cut short, their performance of Hedwig and the Angry Inch won Billy Butler a best actor in a musical award. Last year, the group competed as a community theater and he won best actor in a musical for portraying Frank N. Furter in Rocky Horror Show. Jeff Prescott took best musical direction for Hedwig and Steve Devino and Butler shared the award for best sound design.

David Preece’s adaptation of Dickens’ short stories provided a good showing for Concord Community Players in the 19 community categories. Charles Dickens’ Ghost Stories won best play, best actress in a play for Melinda Wolfe, best director of a play for Wallace Pinault, best lighting design, and Jim Webber won best scenic design for it. Preece won an award for best original play for Tender previously but this Ghost Stories didn’t secure a second for him. Preece is also the executive director for the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission.

Thoroughly Modern Millie won best community musical production for Actorsingers of Nashua. The group performed “Forget About the Boy,” complete with tap dancing, during the awards show. Donna O’Bryant Metzger won best community choreographer. Millie also won a best community musical director award for Judy Hayward (who had a good chance since she was a finalist in that category for four shows). Her colleague Tim L’Ecuyer — they are both cofounders of StageCoach Productions — won best community director for Urinetown, for Peacock Players.

The year-old or so StageCoach had nine finalist nominations for community awards and Joan Storey won best supporting actress in a musical for Jane Eyre. The Nashua-based group performed selections from Parade in concert style Saturday. Storey’s daughter Alexandra Socha won a best actress in a musical in 2005 for Peacock Players and is now on Broadway.

Linda Pinkham, artistic director of Mt. Washington Valley Theatre Company, received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Genevieve Aichele of the New Hampshire Theatre Project received the Excellence in Children’s Theatre Award.

Nashua Theatre Guild made a good showing. Their production of Much Ado About Nothing, one of their annual summer park Shakespeare shows, won a best community actor award for Will McGregor and best supporting actress for Anna Paratore.

Alan McPherson won best actor in a community musical for MADCo’s Urinetown. Zach Bencal from Peacock’s Smokey Joe’s Cafe and Erik Peter Hodges from RB Productions’ The Sound of Music were runners up in that category. Peacock members in the audience shouted at top volume to no avail when Chelsea De Lacy was announced as one of the top three for best actress in a musical for Urinetown but was a runner up to Lisa Lovett for The Winni Players’ Nunsense, who reminded those in attendance at the Palace that there is theater in the lakes and mountains.

Andrew Cass won best supporting actor for Just So presented by Riverbend Youth Company, based at the Amato Center in Milford.

Neil Pankhurst of Winni Players won best original community play for The Servant of Two Masters. He’s also doing plenty of work on the overhauling of scoring. Rick Broussard, editor of New Hampshire Magazine, one of the producers along with Peter Ramsey of the Palace, talked about the work that’s gone into overhauling scoring, the awards Web site and other efforts to ensure the awards can continue as a volunteer peer-adjudicated event. There were more than 90 volunteer judges from the companies, which submitted about 70 shows for consideration in 2007.


Meanwhile, down the block...
Pirate Stage decided to reprise its production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Eleven Eleven in Manchester following the awards. Billy Butler makes playing an East German nonspecific-gendered rock singer look almost effortless other than the amount of energy required for the role. He slips into different characters and voices while relaying Hedwig’s life story and sings in other “voices” too. The band headed by Jeff Prescott was probably far better than a lot of rock bands you’d run into in a New Hampshire bar on a Saturday night. Butler, Jennifer Mallard and the band performed songs with rock and roll intensity — which, since the setting is supposed to be a rock concert, makes sense — but they are still pretty darn impressive at it. Mallard’s father Brett directed. A good chunk of the folks who were at the New Hampshire theater awards showed up in the audience, as well as a few Hedwig cult members. Admission was a steal at $10. They charged $40 when they performed in New York to raise money for a food pantry attached to an Off Broadway church a Pirate Stage founder used to attend. I, having missed Pirate Stage perform Hedwig both in Portsmouth and New York in the spring, was super glad to get a chance to see it. And forgive the triteness, the music was phenomenal, and so was Butler’s performance — particularly since he pretty much is speaking or singing for almost the entire 90 minutes. Jennifer Mallard’s role has few lines, she mostly sings backup but does quite a job staying in character as surly Yitzhak on stage for almost 90 minutes as well. Butler/Hedwig didn’t hesitate to berate his audience for missing jokes.

Manchester should bring more rock musicals or even dramas into bars. However, those watching the show didn’t seem to be downing the drinks necessary for the bartenders to make a normal Saturday night income. But that’s easily fixed by starting shows earlier in the evening. — Heidi Masek