At Awards Show, Not the Familiar Ending

By Michael J. Toscano
Special to the Washington Post
Thursday, March 6, 2008

There was a shift away from the traditional big winners at this year's Washington Area Theatre Community Honors, which held its eighth annual gala awards ceremony Sunday night at the Birchmere music hall in Alexandria. This year's awards also seemed to favor darker, serious work.

Little Theatre of Alexandria and Elden Street Players of Herndon, which have dominated the awards in the past and were among the top nominees this year, were shut out of the major prizes, while theater companies from Montgomery County moved into the top tier of winners.

The Arlington Players won four awards, including Outstanding Musical, for their production of the lighthearted "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

However, they shared the Outstanding Musical honor in a tie with Kensington Arts Theatre for their production of the dark musical "Nevermore," an examination of the life and tortured psyche of writer Edgar Allen Poe. Silver Spring Stage won Outstanding Play for "Never the Sinner," which was based on the 1924 murder trial of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb.

"WATCH is alive and ticking," emcee Mike Baker Jr. quipped. "Our groups staged 1,300 performances in 2007 and generated $1.3 million. I think we also generated 220 marriages and an equal number of divorces."

In an odd twist, the winner of the most individual awards was a set. The working kitchen for the Providence Players of Fairfax production of "Saturday, Sunday, Monday," on which an Italian dinner was cooked during the performance, won its designers five awards.

The Players' John Coscia was the most frequent winner onstage, working his way through the boisterous crowd four times to share the award for set design, set construction, set decoration and props.

The show brought the Providence Players an additional award for set painting.

Allison Block won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical for the title role in the Arlington Players production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie." Patrick McMahan won Outstanding Featured (or supporting) Actor in a Musical as Mr. Trevor Graydon. John K. Monnett also was recognized for Outstanding Choreography for the show.

Elden Street Players, the big winner last year, won three awards out of 16 nominations, but produced the most enthusiastic winner of the night. Molly Hicks was named Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play for her work as the feisty Irish maid Catherine in "Boston Marriage."

Hicks nearly upended presenter Terry Spann as she breathlessly pitched onto the stage, shrieking in delight, before settling into a more traditional thank-you speech. She concluded by lapsing into the character's Irish brogue, generating loud laughter and applause.

Little Theatre of Alexandria managed two wins out of 19 nominations, including one for lighting design and Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play for Nader Tavangar for his portrayal of Mr. Marks in "Intimate Apparel."

Reston Community Players, with 17 nominations, won three awards, two for hair and makeup in the musical "Seussical," and one for Haley Murphy for Outstanding Direction of a Musical.

Another musical, "Into the Woods," Stephen Sondheim's dark take on some familiar fairy tales, was a big winner for Rockville Musical Theatre. The show took four awards: Outstanding Cameo in a Musical by Michael Reid as the Wolf, Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical for Hannah Willman as Cinderella, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical for Harv Lester as the Baker and Outstanding Music Direction for Scott Richards.

Silver Spring Stage, which has been earning an enviable reputation for producing smaller-scale dramas and a few comedies, won four awards out of 13 nominations.

In addition to Outstanding Play, the drama "Never the Sinner" brought Michael Kharfen a win for Outstanding Direction of a Play. Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play was won by Jaclyn Young as Agnes in the psychological thriller "Agnes of God," and Clare Flood won for Outstanding Special Effects for "Never the Sinner."

"I first have to thank my mother, because she told me to," Kharfen said while clutching his award. "And I follow direction, as well."

No fewer than 109 productions, 30 musicals and 79 plays were judged during 2007 as 29 area theater companies took part in the WATCH program. According to WATCH Chairman Bailey Center, 29,640 scores generated by a team of judges were tabulated for this year's awards, in which at least five nominees were named in 28 categories.

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