PAMTAs: a little song and dance

Portland Center Stage scores big at musical-theater awards with 'Fiddler,' 'Lizzie'; 'Zombie' and 'Piazza' also take home hardware

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.

David Studwell took top actor honors for his Tevye in best-production winner "Fiddler on the Roof." Photo: Patrick Weishampel

David Studwell took top actor honors for his Tevye in best-production winner “Fiddler on the Roof.” Photo: Patrick Weishampel

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.

Young performer co-winner Blake Peebles in original musical winner "Zombie in Love." Photo: Owen Carey

Young performer co-winner Blake Peebles in original musical winner “Zombie in Love.” Photo: Owen Carey

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.

Actress co-winners Merideth Kaye Clark (left) and Susannah Mars in "The Light in the Piazza." Photo: Brud Giles

Actress co-winners Merideth Kaye Clark (left) and Susannah Mars in “The Light in the Piazza.” Photo: Brud Giles

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.

 

PRODUCTION

Fiddler on the Roof, Portland Center Stage

 

ORIGINAL MUSICAL 

Zombie in Love, Oregon Children’s Theatre

 

DIRECTOR

Chris Coleman, Fiddler on the Roof, Portland Center Stage

 

ACTRESS (tie)

Meredith Kaye Clark, The Light in the Piazza, Portland Playhouse

Susannah Mars, The Light in the Piazza, Portland Playhouse

 

ACTOR

David Studwell, Fiddler on the Roof, Portland Center Stage

 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Pam Mahon, Beauty and the Beast, Pixie Dust Productions

 

SUPPORTING ACTOR (tie)

Burl Ross, Spamalot, Lakewood Theatre

Ben Farmer, Spamalot, Lakewood Theatre

 

ENSEMBLE

The Bikinis, Broadway Rose

 

YOUNG PERFORMER (tie)

Blake Peebles, Zombie in Love, Oregon Children’s Theatre

Madison Wray, Fancy Nancy, Oregon Children’s Theatre

 

SCORE

Alan Stevens Hewitt, Tim Maner, Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Lizzie, Portland Center Stage

 

SONG

House of Borden, Alan Stevens Hewitt, Tim Maner, Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Lizzie, Portland Center Stage

 

MUSICAL DIRECTION

Eric Nordin, The Light in the Piazza, Portland Playhouse

 

ORCHESTRATION

Alan Stevens Hewitt, Lizzie, Portland Center Stage

 

CHOREOGRAPHY

Wes Hanson, Kiss Me Kate, Clackamas Repertory Theatre

 

COSTUME DESIGN

Allison Dawe, The Light in the Piazza, Portland Playhouse

 

SET DESIGN

G.W. Mercier, Fiddler on the Roof, Portland Center Stage

 

LIGHT DESIGN

Ann Wrightson, Fiddler on the Roof, Portland Center Stage

 

SOUND DESIGN

Brian Moen, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Stumptown Strages

 

PLAYBILL COVER DESIGN

Julia McNamara, Fiddler on the Roof, Portland Center Stage

 

JAMES PEPPERS MEMORIAL AWARD (three)

Eric Little

John Quesenberry

Drew Harper

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