Tony and the PAMTAs: a producer’s big week

Corey Brunish races from "Man of La Mancha" to Monday's PAMTA musical-theater awards to Broadway for next Monday's Tonys as a nominee

It’s a busy week even for Corey Brunish, one of the busiest guys in Portland show biz.

  • On Sunday he gives his final performance in Lakewood Theatre’s hit revival of Man of La Mancha, leaving the show a week early to meet some big-time previous commitments. (“Corey Brunish, as the grand tall obelisk of the duke and Dr. Carrasco,” performs the villains “with malevolent dignity,” Christa Morletti McIntyre writes in her ArtsWatch review of La Mancha).
  • On Monday evening he heads to the Winningstad Theatre for this year’s PAMTA musical-theater awards, which were his brainchild and remain in many ways pretty much his baby. This season’s top-show nominees include Falsettos, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Snow White, and Lakewood’s Man of La Mancha (Brunish himself is not a nominee). See the complete list of nominees below.
  • Then he packs his bags and heads to his other home, near Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, to get ready for next Sunday’s Tony Awards, where one of his shows as a producer, Fiddler on the Roof, is up for the Tony for best revival of a musical. He’s won a Tony in the same category twice before, for Porgy and Bess in 2012 and Pippin in 2013.

A few days ago Brunish took time for a juice break at a Southeast Portland coffee shop to talk about the PAMTAs, the Tonys, and how he got from here to there.

"Falsettos" at Live On Stage: a PAMTA best-production nominee.

Norman Bandersnatch Wilson and Claire Rigsby in “Falsettos” at Live On Stage: a PAMTA best-production nominee. Photo: Gary Norman

The Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards are entering their ninth year, and what began as a protest movement against the larger and longer-established Drammy Awards has evolved into a community celebration that’s also a pretty entertaining event. As ArtsWatch reported after last year’s gala, “A funny thing happened on the way to the grand wrap-up of the PAMTAs: a helluva show broke out. … for all the suspense about who the winners would be, the hardware almost played second fiddle to the show itself, which for two hours and forty-five minutes was pretty much dazzle-dazzle spectacular. Who would’ve guessed that an awards ceremony could actually be entertaining?”

Brunish is blunt about the origins of the PAMTAs. “It was a rebellion against the Drammys for ignoring musical theater,” he said. “Everybody knows that.” Whether musical theater was being ignored or underrepresented by the Drammys, or continues to be – this year the PAMTAs include seventeen categories, and the Drammys, which will be June 27 in the Newmark Theatre, include eleven musical-theater categories – the feeling at the time was definitely strong in musical-theater circles, Brunish recalls: people kept grumbling and talking about starting their own awards. So he decided to do it: “Obviously all it takes is money and organization.”

Brunish had both. He’d been a Portland actor, singer, and occasional director for a quarter-century, all the while building a successful property management business that he’d begun with some money from his mother’s side of the family, which had done well providing chickens to Los Angeles during the Depression. In tough times, having a few hens was a great deal: they provided eggs, and when they got old you could stew them. (His father’s side of the family, Brunish said, came from New York, and his father’s father was an artist for Walter Lantz who worked on Woody Woodpecker films for many years: “Ironically, both of my parents were scientists.”)

He continues, he says, to be the main man behind the scenes at the PAMTAs, from writing the speeches to running the rehearsal to picking up trophies from the foundry: “everything’s me.” And choosing the voters, after running ads looking for volunteers. Unlike the Drammys, which are chosen by a sixteen-member committee of theater people, reviewers, and others who meet and discuss the productions before voting (and often take heat for the choices they make), the PAMTAs’ fourteen voters are deliberately anonymous and never meet. Each member makes his or her own choices, Brunish said, and the votes are given to an accountant to tabulate. The process guards against the compromises that can come out of a group discussion and vote, Brunish believes: “It’s all based on numbers. I want people to have an opinion and then express it.” And the voters aren’t directly involved in making theater, he added. They’re interested outsiders: “I didn’t want the theater people to vote. This is the people’s choice award.”

Rose and Brunish: partners times two. Photo courtesy Corey Brunish

Rose and Brunish: partners times two. Photo courtesy Corey Brunish

After the PAMTAs, for Brunish, it’s back to Manhattan for the Tonys: these days he spends roughly half of his time in New York and half in Portland. Fiddler on the Roof, for which he’s one of several producers, is directed by Bartlett Sher and stars Danny Burstein as Tevye. It’s up for best revival against The Color Purple, She Loves Me, and Spring Awakening.

He began investing in Broadway shows about five years ago, in partnership with Brisa Trinchero, who had been executive director of Broadway Rose, the musical theater company in Tigard, where Brunish had performed. They began with 2011’s Bonnie & Clyde, on which Brunish was also assistant director. It turned out to be a box office flop, but it was a beginning. Brunish also ended up producing the cast album, after the show closed, because without a recording that people can listen to it’s tough to sell anyone on another production. “The CD is imperative for the future of a show,” he explains.

Porgy & Bess, Pippin, Peter and the Starcatcher, Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons, On the Town (“it’s this crazy little frolic of a show, but with this music that gives it weight”) and Fiddler followed, among others, including Beautiful, the Carole King musical that’s in its third year on Broadway, and the ill-fated A Night with Janis Joplin. (Several of the shows have had Portland connections, too: Janis Joplin premiered pre-Broadway at Portland Center Stage in 2011; Peter and the Starcatchers is onstage now at Portland Playhouse; Mothers and Sons played earlier this season at Artists Rep; the national touring company of Beautiful will open Nov. 1 at Keller Auditorium in Portland Opera’s Broadway in Portland series.) Shows that Trinchero and Brunish were involved in as producers have accounted for more than 100 Tony nominations, and 33 awards.

Brunish has taken an active role as a producer, raising money but also having some involvement artistically. He sees shows during development, and gives a lot of notes, some of which wind up being used: a couple of lines he suggested, he said, are now in the Peter and the Starcatchers script. That’s not unusual on Broadway, he added: “Because there’s $12 million at stake, ego is not the issue. The idea wins. If you speak their language, and make sense, what you say gets used.” He takes pride in those contributions, and keeps track: “On a recent show, I landed about 50 notes. Three of them were comedy bits that stopped the show with applause. That’s eight times a week, at $150 a seat. That’s 2,304 laughs on Broadway.”

Brunish gets offered about thirty shows a year to invest in, “easily,” and generally picks about three. “I just use my gut. Do I want to see the show? Do I think other people want to see the show? That’s the bottom line.” The third key for him: “Does it add anything to the conversation?”

Brunette's big horse in this year's Tonys: "Fiddler on the Roof," with Alexanda Silber as Tzeitel, Danny Burstein as Tevye, Adam Kantor as Motel. Photo: Joan Marcus

Brunish’s big horse in this year’s Tonys: “Fiddler on the Roof,” with Alexanda Silber as Tzeitel, Danny Burstein as Tevye, and Adam Kantor as Motel. Photo: Joan Marcus

On the horizon: Dear Evan Hansen, a new musical playing now Off-Broadway and due for a Broadway transfer in November, and Come From Away, a new musical set after 9/11, when thirty planes landed in a little Newfoundland town because they couldn’t go on to their destinations, and what happened when the passengers and townsfolk spent two weeks together before the planes could depart again.

Trinchero and Brunish ended their partnership last year (Trinchero has gone on to a new venture, ShooWin, in sports ticketing), and Brunish is now a producing partner with Jessica Rose, who knows the business side of show business very well: She’s a CPA. She is also Brunish’s fiancée. “She’s from Brooklyn,” he said. “We met in the lobby at Bonnie & Clyde. And the rest is history.”

Like the PAMTAs and the Tonys, it’s a history still in the making.

*

The PAMTAs are at 7 p.m. Monday, June 6, in the Dolores Winningstad Theatre of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts. The complete list of nominees:

Outstanding Male Actor in a Lead Role

ANDRES ALCALA — SHREK THE MUSICAL

ETHAN CRYSTAL — HEATHERS

LEIF NORBY — MAN OF LA MANCHA

GERMAN ALEXANDER — CUBA LIBRE

BRIAN DEMAR JONES — ANYTHING GOES

Outstanding Female Actor in a Lead Role

CAMILLE TRINKA — SHREK THE MUSICAL

MALIA TIPPETS — CARRIE THE MUSICAL

CLAIRE AVAKIAN — THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE

JANET DACAL — CUBA LIBRE

PAM MAHON — MAN OF LA MANCHA

Outstanding Male Actor in a Supporting Role

DARIUS PIERCE — ANYTHING GOES

SAM BURNS — SHREK THE MUSICAL

JOE THEISSEN — THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE

JOEY COTE — MAN OF LA MANCHA

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!

Outstanding Ensemble

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE — BROADWAY ROSE

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — PORTLAND CENTER STAGE

OKLAHOMA! — BROADWAY ROSE

SHREK THE MUSICAL — NORTHWEST CHILDREN’S THEATER

IN THE HEIGHTS — STUMPTOWN STAGES

Outstanding Young Performer

MATTHEW SNYDER — IN THE HEIGHTS

KAI TOMIZAWA — JUNIE B. JONES THE MUSICAL

THEO CURL — JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH

SOPHIE MACKAY — SNOW WHITE

AIDA VALENTINE — ALICE IN WONDERLAND

Outstanding Director

ANNIE KAISER — THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE

PAUL ANGELO — DOGFIGHT

CHRIS COLEMAN — AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’

DIANE ENGLERT — HEATHERS

GREG TAMBLYN — MAN OF LA MANCHA

Outstanding Choreographer

MAIJA GARCIA — CUBA LIBR

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

JONATHAN QUESENBERRY — CARRIE THE MUSICAL

ALAN D. LYTLE — MAN OF LA MANCHA

DARCY WHITE — FALSETTOS

JORGE GOMEZ — CUBA LIBRE

RICK LEWIS — AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’

Outstanding Costume Design

GRACE O’MALLEY — CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES

JANET MOUSER — THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK CHRISTMAS MUSICAL

MARY ROCHON — SHREK THE MUSICAL

ALISON HERYER — AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’

MARGARET LOUISE CHAPMAN — MAN OF LA MANCHA

Outstanding Set Design

JOHN ELLINGSON — SHREK THE MUSICAL

TONY CISEK — AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’

CHRIS WHITTEN — CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES

GLENN GAUER — MAN OF LA MANCHA

LARRY LARSEN — ADRIFT IN MACAO

Outstanding Light Design

GENE DENT — THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE

PETER WEST — CUBA LIBRE

DIANE FERRY WILLIAMS — AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’

VANESSA JANSON — IN THE HEIGHTS

KRISTEEN WILLIS CROSSER — SNOW WHITE

Outstanding Sound Design

ELIZABETH WYATT — ADRIFT IN MACAO

TIM RICHEY — THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE

MARCUS STOREY AND TIMMOTHY GREENIDGE — MAN OF LA MANCHA

CASI PACILIO — AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’

SHARATH PATEL — CUBA LIBRE

Outstanding Production

FALSETTOS — LIVE ON STAGE

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE — BROADWAY ROSE

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — PORTLAND CENTER STAGE

SNOW WHITE — NORTHWEST CHILDREN’S THEATER

MAN OF LA MANCHA — LAKEWOOD THEATRE COMPANY

Best Original Musical

THE ADVENTURES OF DEX DIXON PARANORMAL DICK — STUMPTOWN STAGES

BITE ME — ARLIE CONNER

CUBA LIBRE — ARTISTS REPERTORY THEATRE

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

The categories Outstanding Playbill design and Outstanding Orchestrations have been eliminated indefinitely.

There will be three Founder’s Awards presented. They include Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Outstanding Visual Design and Outstanding Diversity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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