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Lyric Stage, Underground Railway And Boch Center Win Big At Elliot Norton Awards

Leigh Barrett in the Lyric Stage’s "Souvenir." (Courtesy Mark S. Howard)
Leigh Barrett in the Lyric Stage’s "Souvenir." (Courtesy Mark S. Howard)
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Lyric Stage Company, Underground Railway Theater and the Boch Center swept up three awards each at the 36th annual Elliot Norton Awards on Monday night.

The awards — called "Norties" for short — are given out each year by the Boston Theater Critics Association to acknowledge excellence on area stages. They are named for Elliot Norton, who died in 2003, an esteemed theater critic who earned the sobriquet "The Dean of American Theater Critics," as BTCA president Joyce Kulhawik noted during the ceremony at the Huntington Avenue Theatre.

Accomplished area stage favorite Leigh Barrett was honored with the Award for Sustained Excellence. Past recipients of the award include Sir Ian McKellen (1988), Lynn Redgrave (1993), Will Lyman (2013) and Diane Paulus (2017). Barrett also won Outstanding Musical Performance by an Actress for her work in back-to-back productions of “Souvenir” and “Gypsy” at the Lyric Stage Company.

The Lyric picked up an award for Outstanding Musical Performance by an Actor for Barrett's costar Will McGarrahan in "Souvenir." And Summer L. Williams took the prize for Outstanding Director for a midsize theater for her work on the Lyric’s production of “Barbecue.”

Underground Railway Theater tied Lyric Stage Company’s trio of honors. The company won Outstanding Production for a midsize theater for “Constellations,” while Jacob Athyal received accolades in the category of Outstanding Actor at a midsize theater for his role in “Guards at the Taj.” Caitlin Nasema Cassidy won Outstanding Actress at a midsize theater for the production of “Paradise.”

The Boch Center earned its trio of wins in the Visiting Production category. “The Color Purple” took the honor for Outstanding Visiting Production, while the star of that show, Adrianna Hicks, won for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Visiting Production. Richard Thomas won Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Visiting Production for his role in “The Humans,” which, like “The Color Purple,” played at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre. (Boch Center’s triptych of awards had been announced in advance of the May 21 ceremony.)

Puckish YouTube star Randy Rainbow brought his brand of phosphorescent political humor as this year’s Guest of Honor. Rainbow entertained the event’s attendees with a pre-recorded parody music video riffing on current headlines. In his introductory remarks, Rainbow noted wryly, "I have two coping mechanisms in this life, and they are humor and musical theater."

Randy Rainbow. (Courtesy Elliot Norton Awards)
Randy Rainbow. (Courtesy Elliot Norton Awards)

The Elliot Norton Awards Committee and various guest presenters handed out accolades in 25 categories, honoring work from companies of all sizes. Among entities with larger budgets, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company garnered a pair of Norties, winning Outstanding Production at a Large Theater for “Beckett in Brief” and seeing Gracyn Mix, star of last summer’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” on the Boston Common, take the prize for Outstanding Actress at a Large Theater. Fellow giant, the American Repertory Theater, scored two prizes for “Arrabal.” The show won Outstanding Musical Production, and Sergio Trujillo took Outstanding Director.

On the other end of the spectrum, Sleeping Weazel’s modestly produced, but powerfully relevant “3/Fifths’ Trapped in a Traveling Minstrel Show” nabbed kudos for Outstanding Production, Fringe Theater. Another winner in that class was Flat Earth Theatre, whose production of “Fat Pig” netted star Lindsay Eagle the prize for Outstanding Actress at a Small or Fringe Theater.

Boston area designers — the people who create the lighting schemes, sound designs, sets, costumes, videos, projections and other production elements — were accorded their due as well, with the team behind the ArtsEmerson production of “Home” — Steven Dufala, Karen Young, Christopher Kuhl, Brandon Wolcott and Steve Cuiffo — honored for Outstanding Design at a Large Theater. (The show featured a home being built over before the audience’s eyes.) Among contenders for the same award in the Midsize, Small or Fringe Theater side, Arlekin Players Theatre emerged victorious on the strength of the work done by Nikolay Simonov, Stephen Petrelli, Jakov Jakoulov, Svetlana Vakhutinsky and Aleksey Shemyatovski, who created a dystopian world within the constraints of a shoebox-like performance space.

Leigh Barrett’s award for Sustained Excellence was not the only moment in which longstanding and significant contributions to area theater were recognized. Reagle Music Theatre founder Robert J. Eagle received a special citation for his half-century with the theater, which he founded in 1969.

In a more somber vein, the ceremony also honored several recently departed members of the Boston area theater scene. The award for Outstanding Musical Production went to the American Repertory Theater’s production of “Arrabal” in memory of Jan Geidt, who for many years served the A.R.T. in a variety of roles. Geidt died last February at the age of 80. McKinley Belcher III’s award for Outstanding Actor, Large Theater was presented in memory of Thomas Derrah, a founding member of the American Repertory Theater. Derrah died last October at the age of 64. Summer L. Williams’ award for her directorial work on “Barbecue” was presented in memory of comic actor Larry Coen, who passed away suddenly this past January at the age of 59. StageSource founding board member Jack Welch, who died last November at the age of 77, was also remembered, with the award for Outstanding New Script going to Idris Goodwin for “Hype Man: a break beat play” in his memory. (In another win for that play, Company One, which developed and staged “Hype Man,” took the prize for Outstanding Production, Small Theater.)

The cast of Company One's "Hype Man." (Courtesy Paul Fox/Company One)
The cast of Company One's "Hype Man." (Courtesy Paul Fox/Company One)

Following the tradition first established at last year’s 35th annual awards, the Elliot Norton Committee presented Boston Conservatory at Berklee with the 2018 Elliot Norton Arts Education Award, which this year was supported by a matching grant from Broadway In Boston.

The complete list of winners follows:

Outstanding Visiting Production: “The Color Purple” (Boch Center Shubert Theatre)

Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Visiting Production: Richard Thomas, “The Humans” (Boch Center Shubert Theatre)

Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Visiting Production: Adrianna Hicks, “The Color Purple” (Boch Center Shubert Theatre)

Outstanding Musical Production: “Arrabal” (American Repertory Theater)

Outstanding Production, Large Theater: “Beckett in Brief” (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company)

Outstanding Production, Midsize Theater: “Constellations” (Underground Railway Theater)

Outstanding Production, Small Theater: “Hype Man: a break beat play” (Company One Theatre)

Outstanding Production, Fringe Theater: “3/Fifths’ Trapped in a Traveling Minstrel Show” (Sleeping Weazel)

Outstanding Design, Large Theater: “Home” (ArtsEmerson) Scenic design by Steven Dufala, costumes by Karen Young, lighting by Christopher Kuhl, sound by Brandon Wolcott, illusions by Steve Cuiffo

Outstanding Design, Midsize, Small or Fringe Theater: “A Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel” (Arlekin Players Theatre) Stage design by Nikolay Simonov, lighting by Stephen Petrelli, sound by Jakov Jakoulov, video by Svetlana Vakhutinsky and Aleksey Shemyatovsky

Outstanding Actor, Large Theater: McKinley Belcher III, “A Guide for the Homesick” (Huntington Theatre Company)

Outstanding Actress, Large Theater: Gracyn Mix, “Romeo and Juliet” (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company)

Outstanding Actor, Midsize Theater: Jacob Athyal, “Guards at the Taj” (Underground Railway Theater)

Outstanding Actress, Midsize Theater: Caitlin Nasema Cassidy, “Paradise” (Underground Railway Theater)

Outstanding Actor, Small or Fringe Theater: Barlow Adamson, “Elemeno Pea” (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre)

Outstanding Actress, Small or Fringe Theater: Lindsay Eagle, “Fat Pig” (Flat Earth Theatre)

Outstanding Musical Performance by an Actor: Will McGarrahan, “Souvenir” (Lyric Stage Company of Boston)

Outstanding Musical Performance by an Actress: Leigh Barrett, “Souvenir” (Lyric Stage Company of Boston) and "Gypsy" (Lyric Stage Company of Boston)

Outstanding Director, Large Theater: Sergio Trujillo, “Arrabal” (American Repertory Theater)

Outstanding Director, Midsize Theater: Summer L. Williams, “Barbecue” (Lyric Stage Company of Boston)

Outstanding Director, Small or Fringe Theater: Allison Olivia Choat, “The 39 Steps” (Moonbox Productions)

Outstanding New Script: Idris Goodwin, “Hype Man: a break beat play” (Company One Theatre)

Outstanding Solo Performance: Keith Hamilton Cobb, “American Moor” (O.W.I. Bureau of Theatre and Phoenix Theatre Ensemble)

Outstanding Musical Direction: David Reiffel, “Man of La Mancha” (New Repertory Theatre) and “Shakespeare in Love” (SpeakEasy Stage Company)

Outstanding Ensemble: “In the Heights” (Wheelock Family Theatre)

Kilian Melloy Theater Critic
Kilian Melloy is a contributor to WBUR's The ARTery.

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