The Theatre at Ace Hotel

PHOTOS BY RYAN MILLER/CAPTURE IMAGING

 

On the same day the Motion Picture Academy announced its annual Oscar nominations - and came under attack again for its lack of ethnic and gender diversity - the 30th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards ceremony took place at the historic Ace Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles on January 13. Despite the fact that the movie industry and the theatre scene here both draw largely from the same L.A.- centered talent pool, the Ovation Awards were as multi-culturally and sex diverse and representative of the population as the Academy was #OscarsSoWhite and (perhaps to coin a hashtag) #OscarsSoMale.

 

According to LA STAGE Alliance’s online outlet https://thisstage.la/: “The Ovation Awards are the only peer-judged theatre awards in Los Angeles, created to recognize excellence in theatrical performance, production and design in the Greater Los Angeles area.” This year Ovation voters - 272 theatre professionals - recognized 156 talents from 64 (out of 278) productions presented in L.A. County from August 27, 2018 - August 25, 2019.

The Ovation nominees were typified by Denise Yolén, who was contending for the theatrical accolade for Featured Actress in a Play in the Matrix Theatre Company’s Scraps. This hard-hitting drama about police excessive use of force against African Americans was also Ovation-nommed in the Fight Direction (Ahmed Best) and Sound Design - Intimate Theatre (Jeff Gardner) categories. Crowned by braids at the Ace, looking radiant in her raiment - a form fitting glowing golden gown - Ms. Yolén lost to another young woman of color, Xochitl Romero, for Cost of Living at the Fountain Theatre.

Despite being a modest, intimate venue situated inside of a two-story complex in a residential neighborhood, the Fountain Theatre also beat out L.A.’s largest theatres for the top Ovation Award, achieving Best Season for Cost, Daniel’s Husband and Hype Man: a Break Beat Play. This accomplishment would be analogous to an indie film besting all the big budget Hollywood studio movies for the Best Picture Oscar (proving once again, as Dr. David Rubin put it, “size is not important”!). The Fountain Theatre also won in the Best Production of a Play – Intimate Theatre; Acting Ensemble of a Play; and Video/Projection Design – Intimate Theatre categories. In addition, Romero Mosley was an Ovations Honors Recipient for Music Composition for a Play for Hype Man: a Break Beat Play, as the 30-year-old Fountain celebrated its 30th anniversary with overflowing laurels. What a well-deserved birthday present!

 

Skylight Theatre was another diminutive showcase favored by Ovation ballot-casters, winning both the Lyrics/Composition for an Original Musical for Michele Brourman, Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres, plus Book for an Original Musical for Dennis Hackin for Bronco Billy – The Musical, an adaptation of the 1980 Clint Eastwood cowboy movie scripted by Hackin.

 

Among the more capacious playhouses to also find approval from its peers was La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, snagging the Ovation Awards for Best Presented Production for A Night with Janis Joplin, about the rock icon plus three for the exuberant and stellar staging of Singin’ in the Rain. Spencer Liff won for the Choreography of this toe-tapping theatrical adaptation of the beloved 1952 Gene Kelly/Donald O’Connor/Debbie Reynolds classic musical movie, while Michael Starr and Sara King won for the Best Actor/Actress in a Musical.

 

Another big venue to win big was Pasadena Playhouse for Ragtime, earning Best Production of a Musical - Large Theatre, while David Lee and Darryl Archibald won, respectively, the Ovation Awards for Direction of a Musical and Music Direction. And when it came to handing out its trophies Ovation voters weren’t Scrooges to the Geffen Playhouse, bestowing eight awards on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, including for Best Production of a Play – Large Theatre. What a Christmas present!

 

As for the show itself presented at the Ace, a former movie palace, the thee-a-tuh ceremony moved right along and seemed considerably shorter than in previous years. Perhaps this was because so many of the winners were missing in action, reducing the amount of time needed for acceptance speeches and causing some kibitzing among presenters who accepted the coveted trophies on the no-shows’ behalf. The program was hosted by Filipino-Ecuadorian George Salazar, a recent Broadway transplant who co-starred as Seymour in Pasadena Playhouse’s good fun 2019 production of Little Shop of Horrors. Salazar wowed the aud with some song performances, backed by a live band that provided musical accompaniment throughout the merriment.

Other notable presenters included: ​Sharon Lawrence (four-time Emmy Award nominee for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for NYPD Blue and as a Grey’s Anatomy Outstanding Guest Actress, and a member of IAMA Theatre Company); ​Michael A. Shepperd (Artistic Director, Celebration Theatre); playwright/actress Vanessa Stewart (Co-Artistic Director, Sacred Fools Theater); and LA Stage Alliance President Marco Gomez.
And to quote Polonius, “this above all else”: The presentation of the Ovation Awards celebrated live theatre in general and L.A.’s legit stage community in particular, bringing talents, patrons and theatergoers together. In comparison with the tonier (if monotone) Oscars telecast, what it lacked in glitz, this yearly theatrical rite made up for with far greater diversity. A good time was had by all, as those going home with or without Ovation trophies were all winners for being part of the lucky few who create art for the people. A splendid time was had by all.

 

And the Ovation Award winners are:

 

BEST SEASON

FOUNTAIN THEATRE
Cost of Living
Daniel’s Husband
Hype Man: a Break Beat Play

 BEST PRODUCTION OF A PLAY – Intimate Theatre

Cost of Living
Fountain Theatre

 BEST PRODUCTION OF A PLAY – Large Theatre

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Geffen Playhouse

BEST PRODUCTION OF A MUSICAL – Intimate Theatre

Lizzie, The Musical
Chance Theater

BEST PRODUCTION OF A MUSICAL – Large Theatre

Ragtime
Pasadena Playhouse

BEST PRESENTED PRODUCTION

A Night with Janis Joplin
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

ACTING ENSEMBLE OF A PLAY

Cost of Living

Fountain Theatre

ACTING ENSEMBLE OF A MUSICAL

Witness Uganda
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

CHOREOGRAPHY

SPENCER LIFF
Singin’ In The Rain
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

MUSIC DIRECTION

Darryl Archibald
Ragtime
Pasadena Playhouse

BOOK FOR AN ORIGINAL MUSICAL

Dennis Hackin
BRONCO BILLY – The Musical
Skylight Theatre Company

LYRICS/COMPOSITION FOR AN ORIGINAL MUSICAL

MICHELE BROURMAN, CHIP ROSENBLOOM & JOHN TORRES
Bronco Billy – The Musical
Skylight Theatre Company

PLAYWRITING FOR AN ORIGINAL PLAY

Lucas Hnath
Dana H.
Center Theatre Group

DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL

David Lee
Ragtime
Pasadena Playhouse

DIRECTION OF A PLAY

Michael Arden
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Geffen Playhouse

LEAD ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Michael Starr
Singin’ In The Rain
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

LEAD ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Sara King
Singin’ In The Rain
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

LEAD ACTOR IN A PLAY

Jefferson Mays
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Geffen Playhouse

LEAD ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Deidre O’Connell
Dana H.
Center Theatre Group

FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Daniel J. Watts
Lights Out: Nat “King” Cole
Geffen Playhouse

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Amber Iman
Witness Uganda
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY

Adolphus Ward
August Wilson’s Two Trains Running
Sophina Brown

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Xochitl Romero
Cost of Living
Fountain Theatre

COSTUME DESIGN – Intimate Theatre

Mylette Nora
August Wilson’s Two Trains Running
Sophina Brown

COSTUME DESIGN – Large Theatre

Dane Laffrey
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Geffen Playhouse

FIGHT DIRECTION

Jen Albert
sucker punch
Coeurage Theatre Company

 

LIGHTING DESIGN – Intimate Theatre

Andrew Schmedake
The Last Five Years: A Multisensory Experience
After Hours Theatre Company

LIGHTING DESIGN – Large Theatre

Ben Stanton
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Geffen Playhouse

SCENIC DESIGN – Intimate Theatre

Joel Daavid
A Streetcar Named Desire
Dance On Productions, LLC

SCENIC DESIGN – Large Theatre

Dane Laffrey
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Geffen Playhouse

SOUND DESIGN – Intimate Theatre

JEFF GARDNER
August Wilson’s Two Trains Running
Sophina Brown

SOUND DESIGN – Large Theatre

Joshua D. Reid
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Geffen Playhouse

VIDEO/PROJECTION DESIGN – Intimate Theatre

Nicholas Santiago
Cost of Living
Fountain Theatre

VIDEO/PROJECTION DESIGN – Large Theatre

Lucy Mackinnon
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Geffen Playhouse

OVATIONS HONORS RECIPIENTS

MUSIC COMPOSITION FOR A PLAY

Romero Mosley
Hype Man: a Break Beat Play
Fountain Theatre

PUPPET DESIGN

Dillon Nelson & ERIN WALLEY
Argonautika
A Noise Within

Ed Rampell is a theatre/opera/film reviewer, historian and co-author of The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.

 

For those who value excellence and diversity on the stage, The Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival’s 27th annual fête, focusing on female solo performers, is taking place March 26 - 29 at Theatre 68, 5112 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601. See: https://www.lawtf.org/.

 

 

Dean of UCLA School of Theater, Television and Film BRIAN KITE; Cast of Fountain Theatre production of “Daniel’s Husband,” L to R — JOSE FERNANDO, ED F. MARTIN, BILL BROCHTRUP, JENNY O’HARA, TIM CUMMINGS; Celebration Theatre Artistic Director MICHAEL A. SHEPPERD PHOTOS BY RYAN MILLER/CAPTURE IMAGING