The enduring and still radical classic Fiddler on the Roof led the parade Monday night at the seventh annual Portland Area Musical Theater Awards, scoring wins in six categories, including best production, actor (David Studwell as Tevye the milkman), and director (Chris Coleman). Center Stage dominated the evening, taking three more awards for its current Lizzie Borden rock musical, Lizzie, including outstanding song (House of Borden), score, and orchestrations.
Portland Playhouse’s The Light in the Piazza, which beat out Fiddler for best musical production just two weeks ago at the larger Drammy Awards, took four wins in three categories, including a tie for best actress for Meredith Kaye Clark and Susannah Mars. And Oregon Children’s Theater’s sweet little high school comedy Zombie in Love, another multiple winner at the Drammys, won for best original musical and best performance by a young actor (the rubber-limbed zombie in question, Blake Peebles). Peebles tied with his Zombie costar, Madison Wray, who won for her starring role in OCT’s Fancy Nancy.
A crowd of about 250 settled into downtown’s Dolores Winningstad Theatre for the ceremony, a swift and generally entertaining affair that lasted a little longer than two hours – a veritable 40-yard dash compared to the marathon Tonys and Oscars. Master of ceremonies was the wryly funny actor Darius Pierce, who kept things clipping with a finely calibrated internal stopwatch and an ear for improvisational comedy to go along with his prepared jokes. He noted drily that next year’s PAMTA winner for sound design (Monday night’s went to Brian Moen for Stumptown Stage’s Ain’t Misbehavin’) will make eight in eight years – or one more than the Tonys, which began naming a sound winner just seven years ago and lately announced to considerable protest its plans to drop the category – will have awarded in its entire existence.
The mood at the ceremony was convivial and upbeat, lifted by performances of several songs from nominated shows and the smooth onstage accompaniment of a lightly jazzy trio: pianist Reece Marshburn, drummer Ken Ollis, and acoustic bassist Brett McConnell. Singer Julianne Johnson brought the house down with a bluesy, gospelly, sometimes scatted performance of Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’, egging the trio on playfully as she shifted tempos.
But the festivities also carried a bit of an unnerving echo underneath. Many winners weren’t on hand to accept their statues, an MIA pattern that dampened the fun. It was especially notable when Portland Center Stage’s name kept being announced. Company manager Don Mason, who once wrote an entertaining essay about the pleasures of being a perennial bit player, filled in at, well, center stage, popping up from his front-row seat in category after category to accept the company’s hardware. It became a running gag, and he milked it well, at one point promising all of the PAMTA winners that if they brought their statues to the theater, he’d see they got free tickets to Lizzie. Toward the end, under prompting from the audience, he expanded the offer to all of the nominees, too – and joked about whether he’d still have a job in the morning.
The PAMTAs began seven years ago partly to celebrate the achievements of musical theater specifically and partly as a response to the broader-based Drammy Awards, which some musical-theater people felt didn’t pay sufficient attention to musicals. The makeup and methods of the awards are somewhat secretive, although Portland performer and Broadway producer Corey Brunish is acknowledged as their driving force. “The [voting] members are anonymous, even to one another,” PAMTA’s website says. “This way members cannot be influenced by performers, designers, theatre companies or even each other. Opinions cannot be swayed at meetings because there are none. Voting is done by secret ballot. All members see all productions to the degree that it is humanly possible. Members purchase their tickets. No member of the committee is active in the theatre community.”
Monday evening, the crowd was there to celebrate. As Emily Sahler put it after bounding onstage with costar Lisamarie Harrison to accept the best-ensemble award for Broadway Rose’s The Bikinis: “Unbridled joy and love is valid, and we need lots of it.”
PAMTA winners are listed below. You can see the list of nominees (five in each category) here.
Fiddler on the Roof, Portland Center Stage
Zombie in Love, Oregon Children’s Theatre
Chris Coleman, Fiddler on the Roof, Portland Center Stage
Meredith Kaye Clark, The Light in the Piazza, Portland Playhouse
Susannah Mars, The Light in the Piazza, Portland Playhouse
David Studwell, Fiddler on the Roof, Portland Center Stage
Pam Mahon, Beauty and the Beast, Pixie Dust Productions
SUPPORTING ACTOR (tie)
Burl Ross, Spamalot, Lakewood Theatre
Ben Farmer, Spamalot, Lakewood Theatre
The Bikinis, Broadway Rose
YOUNG PERFORMER (tie)
Blake Peebles, Zombie in Love, Oregon Children’s Theatre
Madison Wray, Fancy Nancy, Oregon Children’s Theatre
Alan Stevens Hewitt, Tim Maner, Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Lizzie, Portland Center Stage
House of Borden, Alan Stevens Hewitt, Tim Maner, Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Lizzie, Portland Center Stage
Eric Nordin, The Light in the Piazza, Portland Playhouse
Alan Stevens Hewitt, Lizzie, Portland Center Stage
Wes Hanson, Kiss Me Kate, Clackamas Repertory Theatre
Allison Dawe, The Light in the Piazza, Portland Playhouse
G.W. Mercier, Fiddler on the Roof, Portland Center Stage
Ann Wrightson, Fiddler on the Roof, Portland Center Stage
Brian Moen, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Stumptown Strages
PLAYBILL COVER DESIGN
Julia McNamara, Fiddler on the Roof, Portland Center Stage
JAMES PEPPERS MEMORIAL AWARD (three)