The Barrymore Awards for Philly theater excellence, revived

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 The two-character 'Midsummer [a play with songs]' from Inis Nua Theatre Company, won the Barrymore Award for best production of a musical. Charlie DelMarcelle and Liz Filios played the two characters. (Photo courtesy of Katie Reing)

The two-character 'Midsummer [a play with songs]' from Inis Nua Theatre Company, won the Barrymore Award for best production of a musical. Charlie DelMarcelle and Liz Filios played the two characters. (Photo courtesy of Katie Reing)

(NOTE: A full listing of Barrymore Award winners follows this article.)

After a one-year hiatus while the region’s theater community reorganized itself, the Barrymore Awards – the major honors for Philadelphia theater professionals – were back on Monday night, in a full-scale ceremony at the Merriam Theater with an on-stage band, musical snippets from nominated shows, a memorial moment to colleagues who passed on and plenty of thank-you acceptances from the winners.

Two local productions – one of a little musical with a big impact on audiences, the other of a new play taken from real life in South Philadelphia – won top honors for best musical and best play in a glittery night out for many people usually on a stage and not in an audience. More than 650 theater artists and theatergoers paid from $20 (students) to $125 (honorary Barrymore committee members) for the ceremony and an after-party at the Kimmel Center.

At the Merriam, they were the sort of audience the theater artists would probably like to see every night – enthusiastic and supportive. They applauded the many local theater artists who were award presenters and heartily cheered the winners. They demonstrated a close sense of community they rarely get to enjoy with so many others, given short-term theater projects that overwhelm schedules for months at a time.

Inis Nua Theatre Company’s production of “Midsummer [a play with songs],” a boutique musical – intimate and partly told and sung by its two characters as if it were a fast-paced storybook – won the Barrymore Award for Excellence in Theatre, as the honors are officially named, for outstanding musical production. Inis Nua’s mission is to present plays from Ireland and the United Kingdom. Its smartly done “Midsummer” by David Greig and Gordon McIntyre was a smoldering love story set in Edinburgh, about a young man who’s a loser but doesn’t want to be and a young woman who feels that she’s losing whatever she has. The show resonated with audiences and had strong word-of-mouth recommendations.

The show won in four Barrymore categories – the most for any production this year. In addition to outstanding musical, “Midsummer” won for the work of its director, Kate Galvin; its music director, Jamison Foreman, who played piano and reacted to the stage action throughout; and the actress in the production, Liz Filios.

It was a big night for Filios, an actress, musician and teacher who also won the $15,000 F. Otto Haas Award for an emerging Philadelphia theater artist. Filios is a founding member of Bearded Ladies Cabaret, an outré performance group that also performed at the ceremony. The cash award she received supports its winners’ living expenses to encourage them to remain in the Philadelphia theater community. Up until now, the award was worth $10,000 but Carole Haas Gravagno, founder of the award in her late husband’s memory, announced at the ceremony that the annual prize will now be $15,000. 

It was also a big night for Inis Nua, which received the $10,000 June and Steve Wolfson Award for an evolving theater company. This is the second year the award has been given, to a theater company whose budget is under $400,000. (For the record, I am a judge on the committee for the Wolfson Award.) Now in its 11th year, Inis Nua has produced eight American premieres and has taken a production Off-Broadway.

InterAct Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of “Down Past Passyunk” won the Barrymore for outstanding production of a play. A. Zell Williams’ script is a fictional retelling of the controversy over Joey Vento’s sign demanding that customers speak English when ordering at his celebrated Geno’s Steaks on Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia. In the play, the place is Grillo’s Steaks and the owner is Nicky Grillo, not the late Vento. Williams and InterAct also won for best new play.

Four awards for Lantern Theater Company were split among thee productions. The cast of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” won for its ensemble acting in a play and Sebastienne Mundheim won for the play’s set design. Charlotte Northeast won as best supporting actress in a play for “Emma,” in which she played two roles, and Jered McLenigan won for supporting actor for a remarkable portrayal of Marc Antony in “Julius Caesar.”

Charlie DelMarcelle won as leading actor in a play, for his portrayal of the singularly eccentric German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf plus dozens of other characters in Theatre Horizon’s production of the Tony-award winner, “I Am My Own Wife.” DelMarcelle had played the role several years before in another local production; he also played the male role in this year’s award-winning “Midsummer.” “I Am My Own Wife” won Theatre Horizon the $25,000 Virginia Brown Martin Philadelphia Award, presented to a production that demonstrates the ability of theatre to illuminate community issues and interactions.

Three theater companies won three Barrymores each for their productions. In addition to the two awards for “Down Past Passyunk,” InterAct’s Alice M. Gatling won for best actress in a play, for her tense and vivid portrayal of the mother of a grade-school boy who has committed suicide in “Gidion’s Knot.” Gatling, a Houston resident now studying for a master’s degree at Temple University’s theater department, elicited cheers when she said she’d skip classes Tuesday to celebrate her win. 

Arden Theatre Company’s “Parade,” which at 15 Barrymore nominations held this year’s record, won in three categories: Ben Dibble as leading actor in a musical for his standout performance as a Jewish man unjustly accused of murder in the South; and Derrick Cobey and Kenita Miller, playing factory workers, for supporting actor and actress in a musical. Dibble’s win was an emotional one – the busy local actor, a favorite among directors for his versatility, has been nominated for performances a dozen times and this Barrymore marked his first win.

People’s Light & Theatre Company, in Malvern, was the other company to win three Barrymores. Marla Jurglanis won for her costume design of “Pride and Prejudice” and Samantha Bellomo for her choreography in the adaption of Jane Austin’s novel. Christopher Colucci won for original music he composed for the company’s “The Rainmaker.”

James Ijames was outstanding director of a play for his staging of Simpatico Theatre Project’s “The Brothers Size.” The award for ensemble acting in a musical went to the cast of “The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!),” staged at Montgomery Theatre in Souderton.

The world premiere of Paula Vogel’s “Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq” at Wilma Theater won for Thom Weaver’s lighting and Daniel Perelstein’s sound design.

This year’s lifetime achievement award went to Carla Belver, the veteran Philadelphia actress and teacher who was a founding member of what’s now Philadelphia Theatre Company and has had a longtime association with People’s Light & Theatre Company – more than 40 shows there. “Carla’s lifetime of achievement extends beyond the immediate boundaries of her own life in art,” People’s Light artistic director Abigail Adams said. “She has contributed to entire communities of actors, directors, playwrights, students, and audiences.”

Belver has taught at Temple, La Salle, University of the Arts and Swarthmore and Walnut Street Theatre, and has played virtually every meaty stage roll available for an actress in different stages of her life. On Tuesday night at Act II Playhouse in Ambler, Tennessee Williams’ classic “The Glass Menagerie” opens with Belver in the role of Amanda Wingfield.

“I never expected to see or experience a night like this,” Belver said in her acceptance speech. “Yet, here I am, all these years later, looking out at all of you, and I’m so proud of us. You – and what we have accomplished together – is truly a lifetime achievement award.”

The results of some of this year’s awards are skewed because Walnut Street Theatre, with the largest subscription base in the English-speaking world, chose to opt out of the awards; at several times during the Barrymores’ history, the Walnut did not participate. Also this year Media Theatre, devoted to musicals, did not participate. As a result, fewer nominations for Barrymores went to musical productions.

Monday’s ceremony marked the 19th Barrymore Awards. It was the first time a full Barrymore Award ceremony has been held since 2011. In 2012, the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia disbanded, maintaining that its work as an umbrella-organization for the blossoming theater scene in the region meant it was competing for funds with the theaters it served. That year, Barrymore winners of certificates – not the usual medallions — were informed by e-mail.

Last year, a new group called Theatre Philadelphia, formed by several artistic directors and stage company managers, came together – largely to jump-start the Barrymores. Theatre Philadelphia formed a new structure for choosing the awards, and judging began for last season’s shows, which were awarded Monday night.

In each of the past two years, Theatre Philadelphia sponsored a ceremony to announce the privately funded cash awards totaling about $60,000 that are a part of the Barrymores, plus a lifetime achievement award. On Monday night the entire roster of 26 awards was restored to the revived program – along with newly designed trophies that go with most of them.

During the last season, an all-volunteer team of 72 judges considered 88 productions from 31 participating professional stage companies. To qualify for the awards, a theater company had to pay its cast and crew more than in other years – and still not all that much: $150 a week for actors, $500 a show for designers and $750 a show for directors. The larger companies holding contracts with Actors’ Equity, the national union of actors and stage managers, must pay more than those minimum scales.

The full listing of winners follows.

2014 Barrymore Award for Excellence in Theatre

(To read a WHYY NewsWorks review of a production, click on the title of any play in blue.)

Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical“Midsummer [a play with songs],” Inis Nua Theatre Company

Outstanding Overall Production of a Play“Down Past Passyunk,” InterAct Theatre Company

Outstanding Direction of a PlayJames Ijames for “The Brothers Size,” Simpatico Theatre Project

Outstanding Direction of a MusicalKate Galvin for “Midsummer [a play with songs],” Inis Nua Theatre Company

Outstanding Leading Actor in a PlayCharlie DelMarcelle in “I Am My Own Wife,” Theatre Horizon

Outstanding Leading Actress in a PlayAlice M. Gatling in “Gidion’s Knot,” InterAct Theatre Company

Outstanding Leading Actor in a MusicalBen Dibble in “Parade,” Arden Theatre Company

Outstanding Leading Actress in a MusicalLiz Filios in “Midsummer [a play with songs],” Inis Nua Theatre Company

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a PlayJered McLenigan in “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar,” Lantern Theater Company

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a PlayCharlotte Northeast in “Emma,” Lantern Theater Company

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a MusicalDerrick Cobey in “Parade,” Arden Theatre Company

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a MusicalKenita Miller in “Parade,” Arden Theatre Company

Outstanding Set DesignSebastienne Mundheim for “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” Lantern Theater Company

Outstanding Costume DesignMarla Jurglanis for “Pride & Prejudice,” People’s Light

Outstanding Lighting DesignThom Weaver for “Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq,” The Wilma Theater

Clear Sound Award for Outstanding Sound DesignDaniel Perelstein for “Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq,” The Wilma Theater

Outstanding Original MusicChristopher Colucci for “The Rainmaker,” People’s Light & Theatre Company

Outstanding Choreography/MovementSamantha Bellomo for “Pride & Prejudice,” People’s Light

Outstanding Music DirectionJamison Foreman for “Midsummer [a play with songs],” Inis Nua Theatre Company

Outstanding Ensemble in a Play“A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” Lantern Theater Company

Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical“The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!),” Montgomery Theater

Independence Foundation Award for Outstanding New Play“Down Past Passyunk,” InterAct Theatre Company

F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Philadelphia Theatre ArtistLiz Filios

Virginia Brown Martin Philadelphia Award (for understanding issues and communities)“I Am My Own Wife,” Theatre Horizon

June and Steve Wolfson Award for an Evolving Theatre CompanyInis Nua Theatre Company

Lifetime Achievement AwardCarla Belver, actress and teacher

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