Stars to fall on favorites

Honors: Better than ovations, better than boos -- patrons get to vote for winners of these theater awards.


March 15, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

What do you get when you combine the People's Choice Awards with national touring shows? The National Broadway Theatre Awards, nicknamed the Star Awards.

Sponsored by the League of American Theatres and Producers, which co-produces Broadway's Tony Awards, the new awards will be voted on by theatergoers who register on line before April 1 at

Voters will choose winners in 10 categories ranging from best play and musical to best song in a musical, a category that doesn't exist in the Tonys. One-third of the 30 eligible shows have played, or will yet play, the Mechanic Theatre or Lyric Opera House this season, including "Barry Manilow's Copacabana"; "Fosse"; "Ragtime"; and "Rent." When Baltimore voters receive their e-mailed ballots, they will only include shows that have had local engagements.

The list suffers from a few omissions -- for example, Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston's "Phantom," which opened the Lyric season, and "Tallulah," which played the Mechanic in November. That's because for a show to be considered, producers were required to submit candidates and pay entrance fees. Once they did, however, there was no winnowing.

The actor categories each have more than 40 names, and there are 25 entries for best song, including such chestnuts as the title song from "Fame," and "If I Were a Rich Man" from "Fiddler on the Roof." (It's indicative of the paucity of straight plays on the road that only four shows are non-musicals.)

Actors' Equity, the professional actors' union, has criticized the Star Awards for including non-union tours. "The League's position," spokeswoman Susan L. Schulman says, "is that they wanted to open it up to everybody. They did not want to be exclusive." Voters, of course, can indicate their preference for Equity productions on their ballots.

The awards will be presented in New York on May 21. Tentative masters of ceremony are John Ritter and Henry Winkler, stars of Neil Simon's latest Broadway play, "The Dinner Party." Although the ceremony won't be televised, the results will be available online and we will report them here.

Held to accounts

Local playwright Kimberley Lynne's "The Last Battle of the American Revolution" is based on a heated historic event: the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which enfranchised women and was ultimately decided by one vote cast in the Tennessee legislature.

But the pageant-like play -- receiving its world premiere at AXIS Theatre -- is surprisingly lacking in heat. This is especially odd since only three of the 11 characters are historical figures: Carrie Chapman Catt, head of the National American Woman Suffrage Association; Harry Burn (Daniel Ferris, alternating with Larry Malkus), a Republican member of the Tennessee House of Representatives; and his mother, Febb (Cathy L. Shipley).

Despite Anne B. Mulligan's standout performance as determined and politically savvy Catt, the bulk of the action is given over to various fictitious accounts. The overall problem is that the fictional elements are more involving than the historical aspects.

There's the account of a New York Times reporter (Joseph Crea) and his relationships with Catt and a winsome suffragette (Annmarie Amlick). Lynne's handling of the reporter demonstrates insufficient understanding of consistent character development and journalistic practices.

There's the account of the sordid attempts of a seasoned Tennessee legislator (Tony Colavito) to seduce Amlick's character. And there's the account of a reactionary farmer (Joseph Riley) whose loving but liberal wife (Marianne Angelella) finally gets her husband to budge ever so slightly in favor of women's rights.

Director Linda Chambers reinforces the notion of a populist movement by using tableaux and keeping most of the cast seated on stage when not involved in a scene. And Allison Campbell's set design, which turns the terraced stage into a giant flag, is quite attractive.

Lynne has also written an abridged, 45-minute version of "The Last Battle," which is touring under the auspices of the Young Audiences of Maryland. Shorter is probably better where this long-winded play is concerned, not to mention that if the abridged version focuses more on history, it could be a decent piece of educational theater. However, Lynne should consider changing the title; as it stands, it essentially negates at least one longstanding and still raging American battle -- civil rights.

Show times at AXIS, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 1. Tickets are $12 and $12. Call 410-243-5237.

Play readings

The 20th anniversary Baltimore Playwrights Festival will present its final 2001 marathon of play readings in a day-long session Saturday at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St. The lineup includes: "Nothing's Ever Good," by Frank Palmisano III, at 10 a.m.; "Twofers," by Ray Hamby, at noon; "A Night to Remember," by James J. Waltz, at 2 p.m.; and "Mother Tongue," by Caleb Corkery, at 3 p.m. The readings are free, and are followed by a discussion with the playwright. Call 410-276-2153.

Theater workshops

Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre is offering workshops for adult actors. The classes will be held from 7 p.m.-9 p.m., April 3 and 10, at Germantown Elementary School, 1411 Cedar Park Road, Annapolis. Topics covered will include auditioning, scene work, monologues and improvisation. The cost is $20 for one session or $35 for both. Call Sharon Cimaglia, 1-800-222-6177, extension 5026.

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