Past Mechanic shows nab awards

May 24, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Five shows that played the Mechanic Theatre were among the honorees at the National Broadway Theatre Awards, the new people's-choice-type awards for touring productions, presented in New York Monday night.

"Ragtime," seen at the Mechanic in March, was named Best Musical and also received the award for best song for its rousing act-one finale, " 'Til We Reach That Day."

"Beauty and the Beast," which came to the Mechanic in 1999 and will play a return engagement next spring, garnered awards for best visual presentation (shared by set designer Stanley A. Meyer and lighting designer Natasha Katz) and best costumes (Ann Hould-Ward).

Sponsored by the League of American Theatres and Producers, the awards were voted on by nearly 15,000 theatergoers who registered online. "Ragtime" won top honors over more than two dozen competitors.

Other awards given to shows seen in Baltimore over the last two seasons included best choreography, won by the late Bob Fosse for the revue, "Fosse"; best direction, won by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall for "Cabaret"; and best score, won by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer for "Les Miserables."

Best play and best actor honors went to "Dame Edna: The Royal Tour" and its cross-dressing star, Barry Humphries, a production that has not made it to Baltimore.

Mechanic marketing director Marilyn Waranch, who attended the awards ceremony, said a highlight was a videotape of stars ranging from Jerry Orbach to Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby discussing their experiences touring. A touching moment came when Fosse's award was accepted by one of his former dancers, Ben Vereen, who returns to the Broadway production next week.

As to the strong showing by productions presented at the Mechanic, Waranch said, "We try and program what people want to see and then program what we think they should see and will ultimately like."

Theater expands horizons

Arena Players' season-ending production of "Outdoor Recess" is noteworthy in part because of the presence of its guest director. The participation of John Sadowsky, co-artistic director of Howard County's Director's Choice Theater Company, is the latest example of the outreach activities that Arena artistic director Ed Terry has encouraged all season.

In October, the theater's associate artistic director, Amini Johari-Courts, directed "Grace and Glorie" at the Vagabond Players, and in February, Donald Owens, head of Arena's adult theater education program, Studio 801, directed "Valley Song" at Fell's Point Corner Theatre. Movement among Baltimore's community theaters has always been fairly fluid, but Arena Players' involvement has often been limited to sharing actors. Terry's successful effort to broaden the field is a welcome development, which can only add to the cross-fertilization of talent.

Looking ahead, Arena's horizons are widening even further. As part of the Baltimore-Rotterdam Sister Cities cultural exchange program, Rotterdam's Mamyo Players will present a play titled "Just Us" at Arena in July, and next summer, Arena's moving 2000 production of "A Raisin in the Sun" will travel to Rotterdam.

Despite Arena's broadened boundaries, neither Sadowsky's contribution nor Joy Jones' "Outdoor Recess" is notable in its own right. Indeed, the most amusing and unusual aspect of the production is the novelty of seeing the children's game of jump rope played on stage by adult characters.

But though jump rope is a fast, energetic pastime, that's about all that's energetic about Jones' didactic drama, which runs through Sunday, under Sadowsky's slow-paced direction.

Over-worked, underpaid and just plain fed-up, a Washington secretary named Sharon (Vanessa Stewart) and a grants-writer named Earlene (Valerie Lewis) meet outside their office building. One morning, Sharon mentions how much she misses school recess. Another morning, they discuss their childhood affection for jumping "double dutch," i.e., with two ropes. Finally, Sharon shows up with a rope. Before long their jump-roping "recesses" attract other participants, as well as onlookers.

The play has a major male character as well, a homeless man named Al (Randolph Smith), who spews hackneyed philosophy of the money-can't-buy-happiness variety. Recess, he tells Earlene at one point, can be inside your soul. That turns out to be the moral of the play, which treads far too lightly over such serious issues as downsizing and homelessness.

Instead of dealing with these urban ills, Washington author Jones tacks on a fairy-tale ending and an all-too-predictable twist to Al's homelessness. The result is a play that's more like work than recess.

Show times at Arena Players, 801 McCulloh St., are 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, and 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $15. Call 410-728-6500.

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