When the nominations for the ninth annual Suzi Bass Awards were announced last night at 7 Stages, the most significant news about this year’s awards — Atlanta’s version of the Tonys, honoring the 2012-13 season — wasn’t about who or what was nominated but what wasn’t. Unbelievably, Serenbe Playhouse’s musical “Hair” was skunked by Suzi voters, eking out a single minor nomination, for Best Sound Design of a Musical.
Director Brian Clowdus’ wonderful staging of the 1960s classic wasn’t just impeccably sung and staged; it conveyed more joy and ambience in five minutes than most productions this entire season. It made the national tour of “Hair” from two seasons ago look frail, but it apparently didn’t have the grandstanding ballads or high-flying derring-do that local voters seek. Its exclusion from multiple nominations is an embarrassment.
If there is any consolation for Clowdus, artistic director of Serenbe, it’s that his company’s “A Walk in the Woods” was nominated for Best Play and his “The Velveteen Rabbit” was nominated for Best Theatre for Youth Production.
Aurora Theatre’s “Les Miserables” captured the most nominations with 15. It will compete for Best Musical against the likes of the Alliance Theatre’s “Next to Normal,” the Alliance’s “Zorro,” Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s “Ragtime” and “The Ghastly Dreadfuls: The Last Ghast” at the Center for Puppetry Arts. As last year, Aurora finds itself with the most nominated production.
“Anthony [Rodriguez, Aurora’s artistic director] and I are so honored at the outpouring of love from the Suzis and from the over 10,000 people who shared this moment in time,” said Ann-Carol Pence, associate producer at Aurora. “ ‘Les Miserables’ was a labor of love because everyone seemed ‘called’ to the project. For the actors, they were in pursuit of their dream role. For the designers, it was epic in scale and budget. And for [director] Justin [Anderson] and me, it was a chance to leave our individual creative mark on a brilliant piece of theater.”
Competing for Best Play are Horizon Theatre’s “Time Stands Still,” Theatrical Outfit’s “Fly,” Actor’s Express’ “Equus,” “A Walk in the Woods” and “The Whipping Man” at Alliance Theatre.
Anderson is a dual nominee, competing for a Best Director prize both for “Les Miserables” and “Angry Fags,” presented by 7 Stages. He was understandably excited. “This past season I was blessed to be able to tell so many wonderful and diverse stories with a plethora of brave, curious and invested artists,” Anderson said. “I am thrilled and honored to be nominated in such company in a town with so much talent and heart.”
Tess Malis Kincaid’s three-year hold on the Best Actress in a Play Award will come to an end this year, although she is nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s “Swell Party.” Competing in the Best Actress in a Play field this time are Carolyn Cook for “Time Stands Still,” Crystal Fox for the Alliance’s “What I Learned in Paris,” Kate Buddeke for the Alliance’s “Good People,” Minka Wiltz for Horizon’s “Every Tongue Confess” and Veronika Duerr for Marietta Theatre’s “The Summer of Daisy Faye.” Cook has won two Suzis for ensemble work, but the fact that she has never earned an individual award is surprising. This should be her year.
Nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Play are Allen Edwards for “A Walk in the Woods,” Andrew Benator for “Seminar” at Actor’s Express, Nick Arapoglou for “My Name is Asher Lev” at Theatrical Outfit, Rob Cleveland for “Master Harold … and the Boys” at Aurora Theatre and Theo Harness for “Visiting Mr. Green” at Stage Door Players.
Despite rave reviews for his performance in “Equus,” Kyle Brumley (profiled as part of our “30 Under 30” series) was not nominated. Apparently he went to the Brian Clowdus Academy of making things look too easy.
Nominated for Best Actress in a Musical are Catherine Porter for “Next to Normal,” Alison Brannon Wilhoit for “Legally Blonde” at Atlanta Lyric Theatre, Christy Baggett for “Ragtime,” Liberty Cogan for “Kiss of the Spider Woman” at Actor’s Express, and Natasha Drena for “Les Miserables.” That Drena and Cogan are in this field over the sublime Chandra Currelley in True Colors’ “Shakin’ the Rafters” is another Suzi head-scratcher.
The Best Actor in a Musical nominees are Adam Jacobs for “Zorro,” Bryant Smith for “Les Miserables,” Craig Waldrip for “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” Kevin Harry for “Les Miserables” and Harry (again) for “Ragtime.”
A new category this year is Best World Premiere. In the running are Topher Payne’s “Angry Fags,” Payne’s “Swell Party,” Steve Yockey’s “Wolves” at Actor’s Express, David Lauby’s “The Great McAnigan” at the Collective Project and David H. Bell’s “Shakin’ the Rafters.”
So Topher Payne will be competing against Topher Payne.
“Having sat at the table throughout the rehearsal processes for my plays ‘Swell Party’ at Georgia Ensemble and ‘Angry Fags’ at 7 Stages, I had a front-row seat to observe these extraordinary creative teams in action,” Payne said. “Both productions being nominated for Best World Premiere affords me the chance to express my gratitude for their tireless efforts on behalf of brand-new Atlanta theater. Personally, I’m rooting for a tie.”
Also nominated for Best Outstanding Theatre for Youth Production were three Center for Puppetry Arts shows — “The Adventures of Mighty Bug,” “Brer Rabbit and Friends” and “Dr. Suess’ The Cat in the Hat” — and Synchronicity Theatre’s “Le Petite Rouge” at the Aurora and “Unnecessary Monsters” at the Aurora.
The awards are named after the late Suzi Bass, a beloved local character actress. This year’s ceremony will take place November 4 at the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts & Community Center.
A full list of the nominees is on the Suzi Awards website.