'Another opening, another show . . . Our Philly comp'nies are all aglow. . .." So went the song from Kiss Me Kate, modified to open Theatre Philadelphia's 2015 Barrymore Awards on Monday at the Merriam Theater.
The equal-opportunity Barrymore nominations turned into near-equal-opportunity wins at Theatre Philadelphia's celebration of itself. The most wins were four each, going to Theater Exile's The Whale, a play about a morbidly obese gay man, and to Norristown's Theatre Horizon production of the Stephen Sondheim fairy tale musical Into the Woods.
Beyond that, most of the nominated entities went home with more than a little something. The big three theater companies - Arden, Wilma, and Philadelphia Theatre Company - that have often dominated the awards weren't overlooked. Liz Filios, who won last year's F. Otto Haas Award for an emerging Philadelphia theater artist, won best actress in a musical for her role as the sickly but aggressive Fosca in Arden's Passion.
Campbell Meaghan O'Hare took outstanding supporting actress in a play and Kristen Robinson won set design, both for Wilma's Rapture, Blister, Burn. Philadelphia Theatre Company had to be content with the award for Russell H. Champa's lighting design in brownsville song (b-side for tray).
Longtime favorite actors went home happy. The oft-nominated Ben Dibble, who didn't win until last year's Parade, took the leading actor in a musical award for his one-man Herringbone with Flashpoint Theatre Company, and 20-year Philadelphia theater veteran Catharine Slusar won her first Barrymore for outstanding leading actress in a play for the acclaimed Theatre Exile production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? "I've never done anything so hard in my life," she said of the role of Martha. "It didn't leave any space in my brain or body for anything else."
The big winners followed a particular it-takes-a-village pattern. The Whale, which won outstanding overall production of a play, also yielded another Barrymore for the oft-nominated Scott Greer for his portrayal of a tormented 600-pound man determined to eat himself to death. ("The costume was as important as I was," he said.) Both Whale director Matt Pfeiffer and sound designer Christopher Colucci also won in their respective categories.
Pfeiffer expressed surprise that such warm attention was lavished on a play about such an uncomfortable subject but added, "Part of the reason for the strong response was for Scott Greer, the kind of work people are eager to celebrate . . . when there's that kind of physical transformation."
Into the Woods' win for best overall production of a musical was coupled with best stage direction (Matthew Decker), best music direction (Amanda Morton) and, perhaps most important, outstanding ensemble, all of which were greeted by raucous cheers. Decker praised the cast and said of the production, "We shaped it around the storytellers."
One of the ceremony's most spirited moments inevitably involves the Lifetime Achievement recipient, who is usually not one of the showier members of the theater community but someone who has worked steadily and in a variety of capacities.
This year, that person was Johnnie Hobbs Jr., a longtime actor at Freedom Theater and now retired after 30 years as associate professor of theater at University of the Arts.
"I'm trying to be an actor when I grow up," quipped the 66-year-old North Philly native. In fact, he's coming off 1812 Productions' The Shoplifters, and goes on to Two Trains Running this season at the Arden.
New and newish work made a strong showing. Composer/lyricist Michael Ogborn's Field Hockey Hot was considered one of the breakout hits of the season and a breakthrough production for 11th Hour Theatre. It took awards for best supporting actor (Michael Philip O'Brien) and actress (Leah Walton) in a musical.
The Field Hockey Hot cast's riotous performance of "Without a Net," from the show, that was a highlight of Monday night's proceedings.
Christopher Chen's Caught, mounted by InterAct Theatre Company, won the Independence Foundation Award for outstanding new play. The world premier of an InterAct commission, Jen Silverman's The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane, won the Virginia Brown Martin Philadelphia Award.
Also honored were the band ILL DOOTS for the original music for Hands Up: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments, produced by Flashpoint Theatre Company; Samantha Reading for best choreography/movement for Bach at Leipzig and People's Light, and Trenton's Passage Theatre Company, which took the outstanding ensemble in a play award for Little Rock.
Other winners: The F. Otto Haas Award for an emerging Philadelphia theater artist went to Akeem Davis, who was seen in this season's Theatre Horizon production of In the Blood. The June and Steve Wolfson Award for an evolving theater company went to the five-year-old Philadelphia Artists' Collective in its first year of Barrymore eligibility.
Dan Hodge, cofounding artistic director of PAC, also won best supporting actor in a play for the company's Fair Maid of the West. He was delighted about the awards in PAC's first year in the hunt: "They lend us legitimacy."
The creation of a new award was announced on Monday: the Victory Award for Outstanding Education Program, sponsored by the Victory Foundation, which will carry a $7,500 prize. Details will be announced later, before the first award is presented at next year's Barrymore ceremony.
THE BARRYMORE AWARDS
Production of a Play: The Whale (Theatre Exile)
Production of a Musical: Into the Woods (Theatre Horizon)
Direction of a Play: Matt Pfeiffer for The Whale (Theatre Exile)
Direction of a Musical: Matthew Decker for Into the Woods (Theatre Horizon)
Leading Actor in a Play: Scott Greer in The Whale (Theatre Exile)
Leading Actress in a Play: Catharine Slusar in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Theatre Exile)
Outstanding Leading Actor in a Musical: Ben Dibble in Herringbone (Flashpoint Theatre Company)
Outstanding Leading Actress in a Musical: Liz Filios in Passion (Arden Theatre Company)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play: Dan Hodge in The Fair Maid of the West (Philadelphia Artists' Collective)
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play: Campbell O'Hare in Rapture, Blister, Burn (The Wilma Theater)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical: Michael Philip O'Brien in Field Hockey Hot (11th Hour Theatre Company)
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical: Leah Walton in Field Hockey Hot (11th Hour Theatre Company)
Outstanding Set Design: Kristen Robinson for Rapture, Blister, Burn (The Wilma Theater)
Outstanding Costume Design: Marla Jurglanis for Bach at Leipzig (People's Light)
Outstanding Lighting Design: Russell H. Champa for brownsville song (b-side for tray) (Philadelphia Theatre Company)
Clear Sound Award for Outstanding Sound Design: Christopher Colucci for The Whale (Theatre Exile)
Outstanding Original Music: ILL DOOTS for Hands Up: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments (Flashpoint Theatre Company)
Outstanding Choreography/Movement: Samantha Reading for Bach at Leipzig (People's Light)
Outstanding Music Direction: Amanda Morton for Into the Woods (Theatre Horizon)
Outstanding Ensemble in a Play: Little Rock (Passage Theatre Company)
Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical: Into the Woods (Theatre Horizon)
Independence Foundation Award for Outstanding New Play: Caught by Christopher Chen (InterAct Theatre Company)
F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Philadelphia Theatre Artist: Akeem Davis
Virginia Brown Martin Philadelphia Award: The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane (InterAct Theatre Company)
June and Steve Wolfson Award for an Evolving Theatre Company: Philadelphia Artists' Collective
Lifetime Achievement Award: Johnnie Hobbs Jr.