What do you get with a packed house full of theater lovers celebrating musicals? The ninth annual Portland Area Musical Theater Awards celebration, which took over the Dolores Winningstad Theatre on Monday night to celebrate the best of the 2015-16 season. For one night the Winnie had the cream of Portland’s crop of golden pipes filling the air with some of the best musical numbers of the year.
The evening’s big winner was Don Quixote, who tilted at enough windmills to bring the house down. Lakewood Theatre’s Man of La Mancha took home a helmetful of hardware, winning for best production, actor and supporting actor (Leif Norby as Quixote, Joey Cote as his sidekick Sancho Panza), musical direction (Alan B. Lytle), and sound design (Marcus Storey and Timothy Greenidge). In addition, Greg Tamblyn was named best director, sharing the award with Chris Coleman, who won for Ain’t Misbehavin‘.
Portland Center Stage’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ also won for scenic design (Tony Cisek) and lighting design Diane Ferry Williams). The evening’s third big winner was Cuba Libre, the ambitious premiere musical at Artists Repertory Theatre featuring the music of Tiempo Libre. It won for best original production, choreography (Maija Garcia) and original score (Jorge Gomez). Northwest Children’s Theatre’s Shrek: The Musical was a double winner, for outstanding ensemble and costumes (Mary Rochon).
PAMTA impresario Corey Brunish, who is also a busy producer on Broadway, was decked out in a well-fitting tux as MC, rolling out the laughs with insider jokes about life on and off stage. Brunish gave an impassioned speech about the history of dance and its founder, an Irishman by the name of Corey O’graphy. The already gleeful crowd responded through the evening with infectious laughter that became louder as the winners swept up their prizes.
The evening’s opening number was from Staged! and Triangle Productions’ co-produced hit show Heathers. Malia Tippets’ soulful soprano and the Sam Pekinpah-inspired choreography set a fever pitch for the following performances. Don Mason appeared as he never has before on stage, in a slate-grey outfit with an apple-green complexion and hands. The audience burst into a fit of giggles and we were wondering if he was paying tribute to the Incredible Hulk, when out came a delicious rendition of Elphaba’s The Wizard and I from Wicked. The rest of the evening was filled with outstanding performances and great moments of vocalists giving the look of knowing that they nailed their songs – and how.
The chorus of In the Heights took up most of the front row, and Essie Canty Bertain became a little teary-eyed as she accepted her award for Outstanding Female Actor in a Supporting Role, saying she missed her barrio, her friends from her barrio, but most of all how thankful she was for the learning experience. Kai Tomizawa, winner of Outstanding Young Performer for her role in Junie B. Jones: The Musical was a little lightning bolt of energy, and her smile beamed from ear to ear as she gave her kind acceptance speech.
Sharon Maroney, co-founder of Broadway Rose Theatre, remembered actor David Sargent for his humor, warmth and creative edge on stage. She shared memories of his work on Oklahoma and The Sound of Music and the gift of playfulness and craft he brought to productions.
K.J. McElrath accepted with a gracious speech his award for best original song, You Pull My Strings, written with Steve Coker for Stumptown Stages’ The Adventures of Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick. He noted he had been composing for 31 years and was honored to be recognized.
Malia Tippets, who has starred in productions almost every month in the past year, won for her lead in Stumptown Stages’ Carrie: The Musical. Getting another laugh from the crowd, she thanked them for letting her get some of her demons out. She was grateful to be a part of the Portland theater community, she said, and she appreciated that it has helped her grow and helped her find the love of her life.
Hannah Wilson, a sparkly redhead with a peppy glow who also has been filling many roles this season, was given a special PAMTA award for her breakthrough work. Her voice broke with a slight vibrato at times as the surprise began to sink in. She thanked Triangle producer Don Horn, her family, and above all, Liza Minelli, whom she played in Triangle’s Liza! Liza! Liza!, for just being awesome.
The evening’s tear-jerker moment came as Brunish took a few minutes to wipe his eyes before giving a special award to PHAME, a company of performers with developmental disabilities, for its show Up the Fall. Actor Eliza Jensen’s radiant excitement added to the emotional moment: she called Up the Fall the best moment of her life, adding that there’s still work to do for inclusion, but that this play brings it one step closer. PHAME’s Stephen Beaudoin added that art is a fundamental right, a human right, and challenged Portland’s theater community to recognize, acknowledge and hire more actors with disabilities.
Norby’s quick run to the stage to pick up his award for actor in a lead role was full of boyish energy, and he became overwhelmed at times while thanking the Man of La Mancha team and his wife. Winning for his spot-on, eccentric and dear performance as Don Quixote, he mesmerized audiences with his towering solos and innocent reflections as a man out of time.
Tamblyn, director of Man of La Mancha, was also overcome by the sweeps his production took. Tamblyn said the show was a tribute to recently retired Lakewood leader Kay Vega’s forty-plus years in Oregon theater. He said the play is about dreams, hope and love, and that while the cast is small, their hearts are big. Big hearts could also describe the PAMTAs, Portland theater, and the audiences who help make it happen.
The complete list of winners and finalists. Winners are noted in boldface in each category:
Outstanding Male Actor in a Lead Role
LEIF NORBY — MAN OF LA MANCHA
ANDRES ALCALA — SHREK THE MUSICAL
ETHAN CRYSTAL — HEATHERS
GERMAN ALEXANDER — CUBA LIBRE
BRIAN DEMAR JONES — ANYTHING GOES
Outstanding Female Actor in a Lead Role
MALIA TIPPETS — CARRIE THE MUSICAL
CAMILLE TRINKA — SHREK THE MUSICAL
CLAIRE AVAKIAN — THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE
JANET DACAL — CUBA LIBRE
PAM MAHON — MAN OF LA MANCHA
Outstanding Male Actor in a Supporting Role
JOEY COTE — MAN OF LA MANCHA
DARIUS PIERCE — ANYTHING GOES
SAM BURNS — SHREK THE MUSICAL
JOE THEISSEN — THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE
JONATHAN QUESENBERRY — HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING
MATTHEW BROWN — SHREK THE MUSICAL
Outstanding Female Actor in a Supporting Role
ESSIE CANTY BERTAIN — IN THE HEIGHTS
SYDNEY WEBBER — IN THE HEIGHTS
ITHICA TELL — ALICE IN WONDERLAND
EMILY SAHLER — THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE
MEGAN CARVER — OKLAHOMA!
SHREK THE MUSICAL — NORTHWEST CHILDREN’S THEATER
THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE — BROADWAY ROSE
AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — PORTLAND CENTER STAGE
OKLAHOMA! — BROADWAY ROSE
IN THE HEIGHTS — STUMPTOWN STAGES
Outstanding Young Performer
KAI TOMIZAWA — JUNIE B. JONES THE MUSICAL
MATTHEW SNYDER — IN THE HEIGHTS
THEO CURL — JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH
SOPHIE MACKAY — SNOW WHITE
AIDA VALENTINE — ALICE IN WONDERLAND
CHRIS COLEMAN — AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’
GREG TAMBLYN — MAN OF LA MANCHA
ANNIE KAISER — THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE
PAUL ANGELO — DOGFIGHT
DIANE ENGLERT — HEATHERS
MAIJA GARCIA — CUBA LIBRE
ELYN CRAMER — THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE
JEHN BENSON — SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE
SARAH JANE HARDY & ZERO FEENEY — SNOW WHITE
KENT ZIMMERMAN — AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’
Outstanding Musical Director
ALAN D. LYTLE — MAN OF LA MANCHA
JONATHAN QUESENBERRY — CARRIE THE MUSICAL
DARCY WHITE — FALSETTOS
JORGE GOMEZ — CUBA LIBRE
RICK LEWIS — AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’
Outstanding Costume Design
MARY ROCHON — SHREK THE MUSICAL
GRACE O’MALLEY — CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES
JANET MOUSER — THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK CHRISTMAS MUSICAL
ALISON HERYER — AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’
MARGARET LOUISE CHAPMAN — MAN OF LA MANCHA
Outstanding Set Design
TONY CISEK — AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’
JOHN ELLINGSON — SHREK THE MUSICAL
CHRIS WHITTEN — CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES
GLENN GAUER — MAN OF LA MANCHA
LARRY LARSEN — ADRIFT IN MACAO
Outstanding Light Design
DIANE FERRY WILLIAMS — AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’
GENE DENT — THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE
PETER WEST — CUBA LIBRE
VANESSA JANSON — IN THE HEIGHTS
KRISTEEN WILLIS CROSSER — SNOW WHITE
Outstanding Sound Design
MARCUS STOREY AND TIMMOTHY GREENIDGE — MAN OF LA MANCHA
ELIZABETH WYATT — ADRIFT IN MACAO
TIM RICHEY — THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE
CASI PACILIO — AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’
SHARATH PATEL — CUBA LIBRE
MAN OF LA MANCHA — LAKEWOOD THEATRE COMPANY
FALSETTOS — LIVE ON STAGE
THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE — BROADWAY ROSE
AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — PORTLAND CENTER STAGE
SNOW WHITE — NORTHWEST CHILDREN’S THEATER
Best Original Musical
CUBA LIBRE — ARTISTS REPERTORY THEATRE
THE ADVENTURES OF DEX DIXON PARANORMAL DICK — STUMPTOWN STAGES
BITE ME — ARLIE CONNER
Best Original Song
“YOU PULL MY STRINGS” — STEVE COKER & KJ MCELRATH
“AMERICAN DREAM” — JORGE GOMEZ
Best Original Score
CUBA LIBRE — JORGE GOMEZ
BITE ME — ARLIE CONNER & BILL LARIMER
DEX DIXON — STEVE COKER & KJ MCELRATH
- HANNAH WILSON (breakthrough for “Liza! Liza! Liza!”)
- PHAME (for diversity)
- NORTHWEST CHILDREN’S THEATRE (for outstanding visual design for “Snow White”)