Last Friday evening marked a particularly special occasion for the New Hampshire Theatre Awards: its tenth birthday.
New Hampshire actors and actresses, directors and playwrights, stage techs and theater supporters, decked out in glitzy blouses, suit jackets and evening gowns, filled the Palace for the just-shy-of-four-hour award show, which acknowledges the state’s best professional, community and youth theater in a variety of categories.
The show, produced by Joe Vago and directed by Scott Katrycz, included everything you would expect in a theater awards program: dance, song, enthusiastic applause, a few audio and video glitches, scripted skits and ribbing among award presenters, and a lot of heart. From the acceptance speeches of award winners, you got the sense that the artisans gracing the stage felt no shortage of love for and devotion to their craft. The tone of the night was one of appreciation, respect and levity.
Perhaps the biggest award of the night, Best Production, of which there were five winners (professional drama/comedy, professional musical, community drama/comedy, community musical, and youth production) went to the Peterborough Players’ Measure for Measure, New London Barn Playhouse’s The Drowsy Chaperone, Milford Area Players’ August: Osage County, Community Players’ of Concord, NH’s The Drowsy Chaperone, and Peacock Players’ The Dinosaur Musical, respectively. The Dinosaur Musical and both productions of The Drowsy Chaperone took home several other awards Friday night.
Musical director Joel Mercier conducted the onstage band, which subtly and skillfully filled the spaces between award categories and some award winners’ long walks from the balcony to the stage. The band only had to play off one award winner with a lengthy speech.
Short performances throughout the night included scenes from M&M Productions’ The Good Doctor, in which a strong-willed old woman drives a gout-stricken bank manager to near-madness; the Actorsingers’ spirited performance of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” from Guys and Dolls; and the Peacock Players’ delightful and well-accented “Ode to Spaghetti” from The Dinosaur Musical, a show about dinosaurs who invent spaghetti to avoid extinction, said Keith Weirich while accepting the group’s award for best youth production. Weirich also took home the award for best director for a community musical.
Forty New Hampshire theater companies participated in the awards, with more than 100 volunteer adjudicators scoring a total of about 65 shows. Adjudicators are assigned roughly three shows each and undergo training. “They are all ambassadors for our award program,” Katrycz said in an interview prior to the show. “We give them a set of tools to analyze” the performances, he said.
Vago considers the show’s venue of the Palace, which opened its doors in April 1915, part of the magic of the evening. “Just being at the Palace and performing there is a very neat experience we can afford to people,” Vago said. Since the Palace hosts the award show, its original productions are not in the running for awards.
Katrycz and Vago said past award show guests have included comedian and Manchester-native Sarah Silverman and New Hampshire writer and television host Fritz Wetherbee. The award show did away with having a host several years ago; using the “voice of God” narration style to introduce presenters has proven to be the best format, Vago said. “It puts the focus on each presenter and winner.”
Special awards went to former North Country Center for the Arts’ president and treasurer, Bill Hallager (“Matty” Award for Vision and Tenacity, named in honor of NH Theatre Awards founder Matty Gregg), award-winning actress Toby Tarnow (Children’s and Youth Theatre Award), and lifelong costume designer Mary Sevloski (Francis Grover Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award).
A moving tribute by StageCoach Productions’ cast of A Chorus Line honored the members of New Hampshire’s theater family who died in the past year.