The Ninth Annual New Hampshire Theatre Awards opened with the cast of Spamalot singing, “New Hampshire is full of special people who can sing and dance — often at the same time.” These special people celebrated the past year of theater and a milestone for the award show itself.
Although the show made its debut in 2002, it wasn’t until Dec. 2, 2010, that the state recognized the New Hampshire Theatre Awards as a non-profit organization, which gave it a board of directors. Playwright David Preece, who was named president of that board of directors, said the group is constantly making improvements to the show. The Theatre Awards were held this year on Friday, Feb. 4, at the Palace Theatre in Manchester.
“There was a lot of energy,” Preece said. “We are blessed to have a lot of talent in the state.”
On improvements, Preece said he wished they could get more professionals involved. He said about one-third of them were not in attendance at the show. In fact, it wasn’t until Joel Mercier won Best Music Director, which was the sixth award given, that a professional performer was actually in attendance to receive the award. Mercier, who was leading the house band, joked that there was no one to play him off stage so he was going to tell a long story about his life.
Preece noted one of the reasons for their absence is that many of the professional theater companies operate in the summer but the award show is held in February. However, as far as energy went, the community theater members certainly brought enough for everybody. Fans of the Peacock Players and Actorsingers cheered loudly throughout the ceremony. Many attendees wore tuxedos and shimmering skirts. It was like the Oscars, if the Oscars started 15 minutes late because of traffic caused by Disney on Ice.
Department of Cultural Resources Commissioner Van McLeod made a special appearance to help introduce Alex Ray, owner and founder of The Common Man Family of Restaurants. Ray won the Vision and Tenacity Award. Betty Thomson, who has participated in more than 100 local shows in her 40 years in New Hampshire theater, won the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Karen Braz received an Excellence in Children’s Theatre Award. In 1996, Braz co-founded the Children’s Theatre Project.
There was no shortage of humorous moments during the show, which went on late into the night. Best Supporting Actress winner Debra Buckley jokingly flipped her award, which was shaped like New Hampshire, upside down and said, “Ooh, Vermont!” The happiest thespians were the winners of the Youth category, like Alyssa Dumas, who could not contain her giddiness during her acceptance speech. “Why am I am crying?” she asked. Andrew Barret Cox, who like Dumas won an award for his performance in The Wedding Singer, proclaimed, “I am proud to call myself a Peacock Player!” before giving a leg kick that would have made any Rockette envious. Finally, Zachary Spiegel, who won Best Supporting Actor for his role as Billy in Big, the Musical, thanked his family, including his pet parakeet, Chirpee.
The big professional winners of the night were Freud’s Last Session by the Peterborough Players and The Pirates of Penzance by the New London Barn Playhouse. Freud’s Last Session won for a Drama/Comedy: Best Production, Best Director (Gus Kaikkonen), Best Lighting Designer (John Eckert), Best Sound Designer (Kyle Yackoski), Best Scenic Designer (Charles Morgan), Best Original Playwright (Mark St. Germain), Best Supporting Actor (Ian Peakes), and Best Actor (George Morfogen). For musical, The Pirates of Penzance won just about everything else. In fact, the only awards to go to another production besides these two were Donna Goldfarb, who won Best Supporting Actress in a Drama/Comedy as Bubbie in Crossing Delancey, and Jill Palmer, who won Best Actress in a Drama/Comedy for her role as The Woman in Scotland Road.
The Community Theater winners were a bit more spread out, but the Winni Players did take home Best Production for a Drama/Comedy with The Laramie Project and for a Musical with A Year with Frog and Toad. With the professionals many of the acting winners were in the best shows as well, but for community theater it seemed like the performances stood on their own. In fact, eight different productions had an actor win one of the awards. In the Drama/Comedy category Ken Chapman and Mike Zuccola tied for Best Supporting Actor, Jennie Leonard won Best Supporting Actress, Devon Scalisi won Best Actor and Tinka Darling won Best Actress. In the Musical category, Zachary Spiegel won best Supporting Actor, Jessica Williams won best Supporting Actress, Rodney Martell won Best Actor and Ashely Hughes won Best Actress.
“This is the first year we’ve had a board of directors,” Preece said. “We all have day jobs. But we’re making great strides and look forward to next year.”
Preece also said there have been major improvements to the adjudication process, which should ensure that the most talented performers and best performances will be represented when the award show celebrates its 10th anniversary next year.
“There’s no business like show business,” Preece said. “Especially in New Hampshire.”