February 12, 2009


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On Golden Pond writer honored
And actor James Whitmore remembered at NH Theatre Awards

By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Ernest Thompson, who wrote On Golden Pond, dedicated the Lifetime Achievement Award he accepted at the New Hampshire Theatre Awards Friday, Feb. 6, to actor James Whitmore. Whitmore was in the first national tour of On Golden Pond, and they’d remained friends, Thompson said.

News that Whitmore had died that day was announced early in the seventh annual awards show at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. Whitmore played the Stage Manager in Our Town at Peterborough Players last summer. He first performed at the summer stock company in 1947, and went on to perform on Broadway, on television and in dozens of films, including The Shawshank Redemption and Planet of the Apes. He returned many summers to act at Peterborough Players. His son James Whitmore Jr. joined him on stage there in recent years.

Peterborough Players managing director Keith Stevens said Whitmore loved the theater: “I know that he’d want to say to everybody, ‘Keep on.’” Stevens asked the audience to have a drink in Whitmore’s memory that night.

Thompson, who lives on a farm in New Hampshire, has written plays and film scripts, acts, directs, runs workshops and is known for generously sharing his knowledge. He’s now partnered with Morgan and Lori Murphy on Whitebridge Farm Productions in New Hampshire to produce his new film project, Elysian Farm.

As for the rest of the awards, Nashua’s companies did well in the community categories, often appearing as top three finalists. Actorsingers won best musical production for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Brett Mallard won best director for a musical for the show; Michele Henderson, best music director; Michael O’Keefe, best sound designer; Lanea Ritrovato, best actress in a musical; and Josh Dennis, best supporting actor.

“Actorsingers has been a wonderful family to me. They took me in when I was little and just helped me grow so much,” Ritrovato said.

Stagecoach Productions’ Sweeney Todd won for best lighting designer (Rick Brooks), and Stagecoach’s Shawna O’Brien tied for best supporting actress in a musical with Hannah Fosley of RB Productions’ Mulan Jr.

Valerie Psoinos came to the podium thrilled and nervous to accept the best choreographer award for Peter Pan, produced by youth education company Peacock Players in Nashua.

Mari Keegan and Larry Pizza won best supporting actress and actor awards for a drama or comedy for Nashua Theatre Guild’s Dinner with Friends.

Milford Area Players took best drama/comedy production for All My Sons. Deborah Shaw won best director for it and said she took up directing specifically to direct All My Sons. Len Deming and Keegan won best actor and actress for the play.

In the professional awards, in which most competitors are summer stock companies, Peterborough Players took best scenic and sound design for Doubt, and tied for best costume, although they were among top three finalists in many categories.

The Glass Menagerie at Winnipesaukee Playhouse won best drama/comedy production, along with a best director award for Neil Pankhurst, best lighting to Matthew Guminski, a tie for best costumes, best actor for Adam Kee, best supporting actor for Casey Unterman and supporting actress for Alison Weisgall. Carolyn Kirsch won best actress for The Glass Menagerie and, surprisingly, was actually there to accept the award. Many professional summer stock actors or designers were in New York or California working on shows that night. Kee was in New York but reportedly said it was an honor just to be nominated in the same category as Whitmore.

Manchester’s Second Stage was nominated in the top three more than once, and their Falsettos won Heather MacRobie an award for best music director. George Piehl, known locally for StageOne Productions, won best actor in a musical for his performance in Fiddler on the Roof with Mt. Washington Valley Theatre Company. “In the past, you’ve heard me voice my concerns about the adjudication process. I’m glad to see [you’ve] worked all the bugs out,” Piehl said. He thanked Peter Ramsey, Palace president and CEO, for keeping the Palace alive.

The Vision and Tenacity award went to Andy’s Summer Playhouse of Wilton. Alumni helped spearhead a campaign to save the children’s theater this year after it was in danger of closing for the first time in 38 years.

Caroline Nesbitt was honored for Excellence in Children’s Theatre for her company, Advice to the Players, through which teenagers work with acting and production professionals.

David Preece won an award for best original script performed by a community company for his adaptation of The House of Seven Gables, staged by Music and Drama Company. Brian Dykstra won in the professional category for Clean Alternatives, produced by Yellow Taxi Productions. Suzanne Delle of YTP announced that going forward the NH Theatre Awards will also award companies that produce original scripts to thank them. Only three productions of original scripts were submitted to the 2008 awards program for adjudication.

In 2008, 20 professional and 52 community companies in the state submitted shows for adjudication. Each company supplies volunteer adjudicators.

Rick Broussard, editor of New Hampshire magazine, and Ramsey announced that they are planning to seek nonprofit status for the volunteer effort this year. Broussard and Ramsey co-chair the executive committee of the NH Theatre Awards.

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