“You can have all the bells and whistles or you can have none of them and you can still move an audience. You can still reach an audience and make them laugh and cry. It’s what the actors are saying and doing that really makes theater theater.”
Those are the words of Corey Brunish—and they perfectly capture the thirteenth edition of the Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards,known as the PAMTAs. While the show, which Brunish founded and produces, drew more than 300 people to the Winningstad Theatre in 2019, this year’s audience had to experience the ceremony via YouTube. And it didn’t feel unplugged.
I tuned in partly to see if any of my favorite musicals from last year (like Broadway Rose’s Into the Woods and Triangle’s That’s No Lady) would triumph, but I stayed for the show’s pre-recorded musical performances. When Julianne Johnson Weiss plunged into an achingly beautiful rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” in the opening moments of the show, it became clear that this year, the PAMTAs wanted to remind us that making music is, in and of itself, an act of hope.
“We need joy,” Brunish said two days before the ceremony. “We need to celebrate the accomplishments of our community, but it’s considered by some unseemly to celebrate while so many are suffering, and we are sympathetic to that. We agree with that.”
True to Brunish’s words, the show didn’t ignore the realities of a world convulsed by a global pandemic and systemic racism. An opening title card announced that the PAMTAs have donated $2,000 to the NAACP, and “#blacklivesmatter” appeared at the bottom of the screen throughout the show. There was also something subdued about the presentation of the awards—no gushy acceptance speeches, just the names of the nominees and winners on the screen.
Brunish believes that Portland’s musical theater artists are “better at it than ever before.” Apparently, the 14 PAMTA voters—along with what Brunish describes as “random dates or spouses or relatives” who weigh in—agreed. There were five ties, including a three-way tie for outstanding young female performer (the winners were Cora Carver, Ella Carson and Jorja Reed, all of whom played Matilda).
I’m happy that there were many worthy winners, but the evening’s musical interludes are what I will remember the most vividly when I look back. I’ll remember Kevin Michael Moore growling through “How I Became a Pirate” with gusto. I’ll remember Victor Morris’s voice reverberating gloriously inside his car in Los Angeles as he sang “I’ve Come Too Far From Where I’ve Started From” and “There’s a New World Comin’.” I’ll remember Ithica Tell weeping through “Fiddle and the Drum” and seeming to draw strength from each tear.
I’ll also remember the show’s tributes to sound technician Dave Petersen and actor-director-teacher Thomas Beckett, both of whom died this year. I didn’t know Petersen, but Mr. Beckett cast me in three plays when I was a student at da Vinci Arts Middle School. When I was a shy teenager terrified of expressing myself publicly, he believed in me. I remain grateful for that, just as I’m grateful that his legacy was a part of the ceremony.
It’s possible that when the PAMTAs return, they will once again be virtual. But if this year is any indication, they won’t be any less meaningful because of it. Brunish seems unflappable—he told me, “When you’re operating under a siege mentality, you just do the best you can.” Events like the PAMTAs can’t (and shouldn’t) make the walls of social distancing and quarantine vanish, but they do make them feel a little less confining. Right now, that’s enough.
Here are the winners:
ALEXANDER TRULL, Yeomen of the Guard, Mock’s Crest
TINA MASCARO, West Side Story, Stumptown Stages
MARISSA NEITLING, Once, Broadway Rose
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR
AUSTIN COMFORT, Into the Woods, Broadway Rose
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS
DANIELLE VALENTINE, Up and Away, Broadway Rose
DARREN J. PUFALL PURDY, Into the Woods, Broadway Rose
EMILY WILKIN, Footloose, Broadway Rose
CARL FABER, Once, Broadway Rose
BRIAN K. MOEN, Once, Broadway Rose
JAKE NEWCOMB, Matilda, Northwest Children’s Theater
PEGGY TAPHORN, Footloose, Broadway Rose
CHRISTOPHER GEORGE PATTERSON, Mamma Mia, Stumptown Stages
ISAAC LAMB, Once, Broadway Rose
JESSICA WALLENFELS, Into the Woods, Broadway Rose
ONCE, Broadway Rose
OUTSTANDING ORIGINAL SHOW
THAT’S NO LADY, Triangle Productions
OUTSTANDING MUSICAL DIRECTOR
ERIC NORDIN, Once, Broadway Rose
OUTSTANDING YOUNG PERFORMER
BROCK WOOLWORTH, Matilda, Lakewood
CORA CRAVER, Matilda, Lakewood
ELLA CARSON, Matilda, Northwest Children’s Theatre
JORJA REED, Matilda, Lakewood
EVERY SHOW IS A LOVE SONG, Don Horn/Storm Large, That’s No Lady, Triangle Productions
THAT’S NO LADY, Jonathan Quesenberry, Don Horn, Rody Ortega, Jeff Sanders, Marv and Rindy Ross, Wesley Bowers, Storm Large; Triangle Productions
ONCE, Broadway Rose
ANDREW BRAY, many shows; cumulative award
DAN MURPHY, It Happened One Christmas, Broadway Rose
ONCE, Broadway Rose
REBECCA BARNES, Shrek, Journey Theatre
You can watch the 2020 PAMTAs at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXgc0FiUKAA&feature=emb_title