You are seated, for the sixth consecutive year, in an imaginary auditorium, where the sound of rustling programs and impatiently shuffling feet suggest that the doling out of the Robbie Awards is about to commence. A hush falls over the pretend crowd, made up entirely of people who sell insurance and answer phones for a living but who, when you ask them what they do, will tell you, "I'm a thespian."
The lights are dimming. A phantom Bob Sorenson takes the stage, and the fantasy audience bursts into make-believe applause. Hush! It's time to pretend to give out some theater awards.
The Dented Wimple Award for Cheesiest Use of Nuns in a Musical to Desert Stages' Nunsense, Amen
There's no way in hell that we'll ever get through an entire theater season without a single production of Nunsense, so quit your praying. But here's hoping we won't ever have to witness a production of this stale, unfunny musical comedy in which the all-nun cast is played by guys. Especially guys who can't sing or act, dressed in poorly sewn poly-blend habits and cardboard wimples. This program's rehashed dance steps, double entendre, and ventriloquist routines involving sock puppets aren't helped by having them delivered by men in nun drag — especially ones who refuse to memorize their lines, sing on key, or learn dance moves prior to opening night. Holy Mary!
The No Nunsense Award for Best Use of Nuns in a Drama to Actors Theatre for Doubt, a Parable
Brides of Christ were big this past season, and fared better in roles that didn't require roller-skating and fart jokes. In the lead role of Sister Aloysius, newscaster-turned-leading-lady Patti Davis Suarez brought new depth to the kind of role from which she's made a career: the uptight know-it-all with an ax to grind. In John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Suarez survived being clad in a costume of piety and brought Sister boldly to life in a production that punched up the comedy in odd places. Amen.
The Get Thee to a Nunnery, Quick! Award for Worst Attempt at Re-Imagining the Bard to Black Theatre Troupe's Revenge of a King
Fans of Shakespeare who also like reruns of Soul Train were the apparent audience for this artless take on the Bard's Hamlet, which featured mindless rhymes, lead-footed dance routines, and "singing" straight out of a first-round American Idol audition. Rewriting Shakespeare's shining moment in rapper style, setting it to hip-hop, and relocating it to Brooklyn must have seemed like the height of hip to someone, but a musical that reduced some of the world's most famous literary entreaties to such as "Ham, lemme rap to you!" needed to be laid to rest. Yo.
The L. Ron Hubbard Award for Most Audacious Use of Children in a Musical Comedy to Stray Cat Theater's A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant
Performed entirely by kids, this shocking tale of how the late religious leader L. Ron Hubbard created Scientology had plenty going for it: magnificently snarky setups about Hubbard's sci-fi-centric religion; deeply ironic song-and-dance numbers about E-meters and extraterrestrials; and the keen trickery of playwright Kyle Jarrow, whose script includes kiddy pageant mediocrity as an element in his play. But this production offered nothing so marvelous as the performances of its young cast, who had only recently graduated from believing in Santa Claus to playing camp and irony like a stage full of savvy adults.
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The He Who Laughs Least Award for High Comedy in a Low Drama to Actors Theatre's Rabbit Hole
Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama concerns people recovering from the recent death of a 4-year-old family member. Wisely cast with some of the Valley's best players, this season's Actors Theatre production featured performances too glib for a family who'd lost a child only eight months earlier. The play's opening-night performance was met with so many laughs from the audience, it appeared they were watching a comedy about how people behave after a little boy is run over by a stranger. While there's some levity in Lindsay-Abaire's script, director David Ellenstein appeared to have punched up every comic line, asking his excellent cast to play each scene as broadly as possible. The result was a stage crowded with good, solid performances that expertly smothered the sadness in this complex story. Boo.
The Give It to Me Baby Award for Most Spectacular Musical Theater Performance of the Season to Johanna Carlisle in Nearly Naked Theatre's Blood Brothers
That Carlisle walked off with a show staged on a superbly designed set filled with some of the best performances of the year makes her triumph here all the more impressive. She sang Willy Russell's score in a voice big and pure and full of character, and played every emotion known to man without once dropping her working-class British accent. She wrung both laughter and tears from her audience, which stood for her on opening night in a well-deserved ovation.
The Montagu Love Lifetime Achievement Award to Dale Wasserman for Reaching an Unreachable Star
Wasserman wrote more than a dozen plays and musicals, scored nine Tony Awards, and capped his stellar career with a pair of colossal triumphs: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1963, and Man of La Mancha, 1965's Tony winner for Best Musical. He was among a handful of Americans to whom the title "Broadway legend" applied, and Phoenix was deeply fortunate to have rubbed elbows with the man, who relocated to the Valley a decade ago and occasionally produced plays he'd written. Wasserman died in December of heart failure at age 94.