‘Gem of the Ocean’ helps Arden top Barrymore Award nominations

Akeem Davis and Zuhairah in Arden Theatre Company’s production of 'Gem of the Ocean,' which received 11 Barrymore nominations, the most for any production staged last season. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Smith/ Wide Eyed Studios)

Akeem Davis and Zuhairah in Arden Theatre Company’s production of 'Gem of the Ocean,' which received 11 Barrymore nominations, the most for any production staged last season. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Smith/ Wide Eyed Studios)

Two musicals and two dramas produced by Philadelphia-area stage companies lead the nominations for this year’s Barrymore Awards for excellence in professional theater, announced Monday. Arden Theatre Company’s bold winter production of August Wilson’s intense and spiritual “Gem of the Ocean” tops them all, with 11 nominations that seal the Arden’s domination over the Barrymores — 29 in all.

Ebony Pullum as Shug Avery and Jessica M. Johnson as Celie in Theatre Horizon’s production of “The Color Purple,” which received nine Barrymore Award nominations. (Photo courtesy of Alex Medvick)

Theatre Horizon in Norristown garnered nine nominations for its luminous production of “The Color Purple,” the musical adapted from Alice Walker’s now-classic novel about a young black woman whose struggles to survive in the Deep South pay off.

In Arden Theatre Company’s production of the musical “Once,” from left: Ken Allen Neely, Charlie DelMarcelle (back to camera) and Katherine Fried. “Once” received eight Barrymore nominations. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Smith/Wide Eyed Studios)

The Arden’s stirring rendition of the Tony Award-winning musical “Once” got eight nominations.

In Wilma Theater’s production of “Kill Move Paradise,” (from left) Anthony Martinez-Briggs, Lindsay Smiling, Avery Hannon and Brandon Pierce.The production got seven Barrymore Award nominations. (Photo courtesy of Johanna Austin/AustinArt.org)

“Kill Move Paradise,” a riveting new play from Wilma Theater about four black characters in the afterlife, received seven nominations. The versatile Philadelphia theater artist James Ijames wrote that play, and also directed Arden’s “Gem of the Ocean.”

All four shows are nominated for Outstanding Production of a Show or Musical. (See all nominations below.)

The top nominations reflect a diverse theater season of notable quality, ending June 30. The year’s productions highlighted work about various cultures and looked at America from many different angles.

Theater focusing on the black community was especially visible — three of the four top-nominated productions deal with the black American experience. In all, 35 nominations went to productions with African-American directors, according to tabulations from Theatre Philadelphia, the umbrella group of stage companies that oversees the Barrymore Awards.

Philadelphia continues its run as a city whose artistic directors embrace new work and whose audiences are receptive to it — in all, 37 nominations in the 19 artistic categories are for productions of new plays and musicals. Low ticket prices — far lower than those on Broadway — also help make Philadelphia a draw for trying out new work, in an established professional theater community that’s a minor regional industry, with more than 1,000 Actors Equity members, according to the national union.

In fact, a few theaters occasionally offer “pay what you decide” enticements, led for all performances by Center City’s Azuka Theatre, with perhaps the area’s youngest adult audiences. Backed by grants, the stage companies allow theatergoers to pay whatever they think the show is worth as they exit the theater. Most ticket prices charged by the region’s stage companies fall below $50. Private, public and corporate grants balance the budgets.

Some Barrymore Awards help, too — this year’s 24th annual awards, to be presented Oct. 14 at the Bok in South Philadelphia, are worth more than $92,000 in four special categories. They are for an emerging theater artist, an outstanding theater education program, an evolving theater company, and a production that fosters understanding of the issues it explores. (Winners in other categories receive medallions.)

One award recipient was announced Monday: The playwright and teacher Ed Shockley, a founding member and former artistic director of the Philadelphia Dramatists Center, is this year’s recipient of the Barrymore Lifetime Achievement Award. Shockley has written more than 70 stage plays, radio plays and films, including the musical “Bessie Smith: Empress of the Blues” and “Bobos,” which he co-wrote with James McBride.

Shockley, 60, whose work often plumbs African-American themes, now adds the lifetime achievement award to others, including Stephen Sondheim Award for outstanding contributions to American musical theater and a $25,000 Richard Rodgers Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He’s worked closely with Philadelphia Young Playwrights and has  taught at Temple University and the University of the Arts. He grew up in Philadelphia, played basketball for Columbia University, and after his graduation there went on to Temple for his master of fine arts degree.

Nominations for the Barrymores, announced at Cherry Street Pier on the Delaware River, go to 48 productions from 29 theater companies. Eligible for judging were 118 productions from 41 professional companies.

To qualify, a theater company must pay its cast and crew minimums of $150 a week for actors, $500 a show for designers, $750 a show for directors, and $200 a week for stage managers. (For the record, the many Philadelphia-area stage companies holding contracts with Actors’ Equity must pay more than those minimum rates.)

A volunteer team of 76 nominators and 12 judges adjudicates the awards. For the first time this year, the Barrymores include a category for an outstanding production staged in the outdoors. Those nominees will be announced in October.

The Barrymore Award Nominees

Here is a list of Barrymore nominees for the 2017-18 theater season, which began July 1, 2018, and ended June 30.

  • Outstanding Overall Production of a Play: “Boycott Esther” (Azuka Theatre); “Indecent” (Arden Theatre Company); “Gem of the Ocean” (Arden Theatre Company); “Kill Move Paradise” (The Wilma Theater); “Morir Sonyando” (Passage Theatre Company); “The Great Leap” (InterAct Theatre Company); “xoxo moongirl” (Almanac Dance Circus Theatre).
  • Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical: “Once” (Arden Theatre Company); “The Appointment” (Lightning Rod Special); “The Bridges of Madison County” (Philadelphia Theatre Company); “The Color Purple” (Theatre Horizon).
  • Outstanding Direction of a Play: C. Ryanne Domingues (“Morir Sonyando,” Passage Theatre Company); Jerrell L. Henderson (“UNTITLED,” Inis Nua Theatre Company); James Ijames (“Gem of the Ocean,” Arden Theatre Company); Maura Krause (“Boycott Esther,” Azuka Theatre); Kathryn MacMillan (“The Complete Works of Jane Austen, Abridged,” Tiny Dynamite); Kittson O’Neill (“Moby Dick,” Hedgerow Theatre); Rebecca Wright (“Indecent,”Arden Theatre Company).
  • Outstanding Direction of a Musical: Claire Moyer (“The Monster in the Hall,” Inis Nua Theatre Company); Terrence J. Nolen (“Once,” Arden Theatre Company); Amina Robinson (“The Color Purple,” Theatre Horizon); Eva Steinmetz (“The Appointment,” Lightning Rod Special).
  • Charlotte Cushman Award for Outstanding Leading Performance in a Play: Zuhairah (“Gem of the Ocean,” Arden Theatre Company); Brandi Burgess (“Cry It Out,” Simpatico Theatre); Akeem Davis (“Gem of the Ocean,” Arden Theatre Company); Keith Illidge (“UNTITLED,” Inis Nua Theatre Company); Justin Jain (“The Great Leap,” InterAct Theatre Company); McKenna Kerrigan (“Hapgood,” Lantern Theater Company); Jennifer Kidwell (“A Hard Time,” Pig Iron Theatre Company); Jered McLenigan (“Mr. Burns, a post-electric play,” The Wilma Theater); Geneviève Perrier (“Betrayal,” Lantern Theater Company); Brandon Pierce (“Kill Move Paradise,” The Wilma Theater); Chuja Seo (“Salt Pepper Ketchup,” InterAct Theatre Company & Passage Theatre Company); Lindsay Smiling (“How To Catch Creation,” Philadelphia Theatre Company); Leah Walton (“Indecent,” Arden Theatre Company); Ruby Wolf (“Box Clever,” Inis Nua Theatre Company).
  • Outstanding Leading Performance in a Musical: Katherine Fried (“Once,” Arden Theatre Company); Hanna Gaffney (“Oliver!” Quintessence Theatre Group); Sarah Gliko (“The Bridges of Madison County,” Philadelphia Theatre Company); Tessa Grady (“42nd Street,” Bucks County Playhouse); Jessica M. Johnson (“The Color Purple,” Theatre Horizon); Claris Park (“The Monster in the Hall,” Inis Nua Theatre Company); Sav Souza (“Basic Witches,” Hager Productions); Robert Zelaya (“Evita,” The Resident Theatre Company).
  • Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Play: Rachel Brodeur (“Box Clever,” Inis Nua Theatre Company); Walter DeShields (“Sweat,” Philadelphia Theatre Company); Alexandra Espinoza (“Boycott Esther,” Azuka Theatre); Adam Hammet (“Measure for Measure,” Lantern Theater Company); Danielle Leneé (“Gem of the Ocean,” Arden Theatre Company); Anthony Martinez-Briggs (“Kill Move Paradise,” The Wilma Theater); Susan Mckey (“The Christians,” Bristol Riverside Theatre); Claris Park (“Among the Dead,” Theatre Exile); Lawrence Pressman (“Awake and Sing!” Quintessence Theatre Group); Bianca Sanchez (“Hype Man: A Break Beat Play,” InterAct Theatre Company); Jahzeer Terrell (“Three Sisters, Two,” EgoPo Classic Theater); Johanna Tolentino (“Morir Sonyando,” Passage Theatre Company); Rob Tucker (“This is the Week That Is,” 1812 Productions); Brian Anthony Wilson (“Gem of the Ocean,” Arden Theatre Company).
  • Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Musical: Miche Braden (“Nina Simone: Four Women,” People’s Light); Newton Buchanan (“Honk! The Musical,” Delaware Theatre Company); Rachel Camp (“The Bridges of Madison County,” Philadelphia Theatre Company); Charlie DelMarcelle (“Once,” Arden Theatre Company); Eleni Delopoulos (“The Monster in the Hall,” Inis Nua Theatre Company); Ebony Pullum (“The Color Purple,” Theatre Horizon); Brett Ashley Robinson (“The Appointment,” Lightning Rod Special); Terran Scott (“Minors,” Lantern Theater Company).
  • Outstanding Choreography / Movement: Nicole Burgio and Ben Grinberg (“xoxo moongirl,” Almanac Dance Circus Theatre); Sanchel Brown (“The Color Purple,” Theatre Horizon); Zachary Chiero (“Fly Eagles Fly,” Tribe of Fools); Jeremy Dumont (“42nd Street,” Bucks County Playhouse); Eli Lynn (“Tis Pity She’s A Whore,” The Philadelphia Artists’ Collective); Steve Pacek (“Once,” Arden Theatre Company;) Annie Wilson (“Indecent,” Arden Theatre Company).
  • Outstanding Scenic Design: D’Vaughn Agu (“Nina Simone: Four Women,” People’s Light); Melpomene Katakalos (“The Great Leap,” InterAct Theatre Company); Paul E Kuhn (“All My Sons,” Curio Theatre Company); Marie Laster (“UNTITLED,” Inis Nua Theatre Company); Colin Mcllvaine (“Among the Dead,” Theatre Exile); Matt Saunders (“Kill Move Paradise,” The Wilma Theater); Thom Weaver (“Gem of the Ocean,” Arden Theatre Company).
  • Outstanding Costume Design: Natalia de la Torre (“Three Sisters Two,” EgoPo Classic Theater); Elizabeth Ennis (“The Color Purple,” Theatre Horizon); Meghan E. Healey (“Mr. Burns, a post-electric play,” The Wilma Theater); Jillian Keys (“Treasure Island,” Arden Theatre Company); Levonne Lindsay (“Gem of the Ocean,” Arden Theatre Company); Mark Mariani (“The Bridges of Madison County,” Philadelphia Theatre Company); Rosemarie McKelvey (Cinderella: A Musical Panto, People’s Light).
  • Earl Girls Award for Outstanding Lighting Design: Isabella Byrd (“Such Things As Vampires,” People’s Light); Alyssandra Docherty (“Completeness,” Theatre Exile); Alyssandra Docherty (“The Color Purple,” Theatre Horizon); Oona Curley (“Nina Simone: Four Women,” People’s Light); Maria Shaplin (“Indecent,” Arden Theatre Company); Thom Weaver (“Gem of the Ocean,” Arden Theatre Company); Thom Weaver (“Kill Move Paradise,” The Wilma Theater).
  • Outstanding Media Design: Christopher Ash (“Sweat,” Philadelphia Theatre Company); Jorge Cousineau (“74 Seconds …To Judgment,” Arden Theatre Company); Jorge Cousineau (“Boycott Esther,” Azuka Theatre); Lyell Hints (“The Great Leap,” InterAct Theatre Company); Sadah “Espii” Proctor, Carlos Del Castillo Aceves (“Morir Sonyando,” Passage Theatre Company).
  • Bauder Audio Award for Outstanding Sound Design: Elizabeth Atkinson (“Once,” Arden Theatre Company); Christopher Colucci (“The Heir Apparent,” Lantern Theater Company); Melissa Dunphy (“Hype Man: A Break Beat Play,” InterAct Theatre Company); Justin Ellington (“Kill Move Paradise,” The Wilma Theater); Daniel Ison (“Gem of the Ocean,” Arden Theatre Company); Daniel Ison (“UNTITLED,” Inis Nua Theatre Company); Shannon Zura (“Boycott Esther,” Azuka Theatre).
  • Outstanding Original Music: Alex Bechtel (“The Appointment,” Lightning Rod Special); Zak Berkman & Jessie Fisher (“Such Things As Vampires,” People’s Light); Melissa Dunphy (“Among the Dead,” Theatre Exile); Larry Fowler (“Hype Man: A Break Beat Play,” InterAct Theatre Company); Jamison Foreman (“The Monster in the Hall,” Inis Nua Theatre Company); Robi Hager (Basic Witches, Hager Productions); Mel Hsu (“xoxo moongirl,” Almanac Dance Circus Theatre).
  • Outstanding Music Direction: Jamison Foreman (“The Monster in the Hall,” Inis Nua Theatre Company); Amanda Morton (“The Bridges of Madison County,” Philadelphia Theatre Company); Amanda Morton (“The Color Purple,” Theatre Horizon); Jason Neri (“Ragtime,” Eagle Theatre); Ryan Touhey (“Once,” Arden Theatre Company).
  • Outstanding Ensemble in a Play: “A Hard Time” (Pig Iron Theatre Company); “Awake and Sing!” (Quintessence Theatre Group); “Box Clever” (Inis Nua Theatre Company); “Gem of the Ocean: (Arden Theatre Company); “Indecent” (Arden Theatre Company); “Kill Move Paradise” (The Wilma Theater); “Treasure Island” (Arden Theatre Company).
  • Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical: “Once” (Arden Theatre Company); “The Appointment” (Lightning Rod Special); “The Color Purple” (Theatre Horizon); “The Monster in the Hall” (Inis Nua Theatre Company).
  • Independence Foundation Award for Outstanding New Play/Musical: Kash Goins (“74 Seconds …To Judgment,” Arden Theatre Company); Jess Conda, Jenn Kidwell, Mel Krodman (“A Hard Time,” Pig Iron Theatre Company); Emily Acker (“Boycott Esther,” Azuka Theatre); Christina Anderson (“How To Catch Creation,” Philadelphia Theatre Company); Erlina Ortiz (“Morir Sonyando,” Passage Theatre Company); Josh Wilder (“Salt Pepper Ketchup,” InterAct Theatre Company & Passage Theatre Company); Alice Yorke with Eva Steinmetz, Alex Bechtel, Scott R. Sheppard, and the ensemble; score by Alex Bechtel (“The Appointment,” Lightning Rod Special).
  • Outstanding Outdoor Theatre Production (1st Year): Nominees to be announced in October.
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Ed Shockley.
  • F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Philadelphia Theatre Artist: Jaylene Clark Owens; J Hernandez; Dan O’Neil; Gabriela Sanchez; Maria Shaplin.
  • Brown Martin Philadelphia Award: “Boycott Esther” (Azuka Theatre); “Kill Move Paradise” (The Wilma Theater); “Morir Sonyando” (Passage Theatre Company); “The Appointment” (Lightning Rod Special); “The Color Purple” (Theatre Horizon).
  • June and Steve Wolfson Award for an Evolving Theatre Company: Applied Mechanics; Curio Theatre Company; Lightning Rod Special; Simpatico Theatre; Tiny Dynamite.
  • Victory Foundation Award for Outstanding Theatre Education Program ASAP/After School Activities Partnerships: Lantern Theater Company; People’s Light; Theatre Horizon; Yes! And…Collaborative Arts.

The Barrymore Awards presentation on Oct.14 is open to the public; $80 for the ceremony and post-show celebration at the Bok, 1901 S. Ninth St. theatrephiladelphia.org.

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