Though voters spread the wealth somewhat last evening, the Alliance Theatre was the clear big winner at last night’s 10th annual Suzi Bass Awards presentation, honoring excellence for the 2013–14 theater season.
Named after the late character actress, the Suzis handed out awards in 29 categories. The Alliance Theatre won the evening’s top prizes: Best Play for Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy and Best Musical for Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman’s remount of Harmony, as well as honors for each show’s director — Trip Cullman and Tony Speciale, respectively — and ensemble.
Mary Poppins, the sensational musical staged this summer by Aurora Theatre, led all productions with six awards, including wins for Best Actress in a Musical for Galen Crawley and Best Actor in a Musical for Andy Meeks. Crawley said her role as the flying titular character was life-changing and special. “The biggest honor is to be a working actress in my hometown,” she says. “There is nothing better than driving home on the Connector each day and seeing the skyline and knowing that I live in Atlanta.”
Meeks returned to performing for the role of Bert. “I had been out of the theater,” he says. “I had had my first child. I decided to be a full-time dad instead of continuing to perform. I missed it terribly. But this role spoke to me, and Ann-Carol [Pence of Aurora Theatre] suggested I come over and see if it worked. I thought about my little boy and he had never seen me perform.” When he saw the smiling faces every night, Meeks knew the role was bigger than him and that he had made the right decision.
Pence picked up the award for Best Musical Direction for the show and reflected on the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians. “There are a lot, a lot, of wonderful musicians aching to go back to work and for some reason — for what I consider a small amount of money — they are not able to,” she said. “I am an avid sports fan — I love football. But I want some balance in my life. I do not understand why we are spending a lot of money to build a new football stadium for a team that has never won a Super Bowl but yet an international acclaimed group of musicians who have won 27 Grammys are unable to go back to work.”
As expected, Natasha Drena was named Best Actress in a Play for her work as Judy Garland in Actor’s Express’ End of the Rainbow. Among others, she thanked her director Freddie Ashley for giving her the courage to play a legend night after night, and costar Tony Larkin, whom she said received “no praise for a crappy part, getting yelled out every night.” A highly competitive field for Best Actor in a Play resulted in a tie — ironically, with Andrew Benator and Neal Ghant sharing the award for their work in True Colors’ Race. Benator quipped that was glad he wasn’t up against anyone in Mary Poppins.
Serenbe Playhouse’s Oklahoma! had led the evening with nominations but only took home one award, that for Featured Actor in a Musical for Austin Tijerina, while Marcie Millard ended a Suzi losing streak with a win for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s Annie. Tying for Featured Actress in a Play were Lala Cochran for Theatrical Outfit’s The Best of Enemies and Courtenay Collins for the Alliance’s The Geller Girls. In one of the bittersweet moments of the evening, Richard Garner, artistic director of the late Georgia Shakespeare, was named Featured Actor in a Play for the company’s One Man, Two Guvnors.
Local actress and writer Suehyla El-Attar has won Suzis for acting and now as a playwright. Her Third Country — presented by Horizon Theatre — won her the Gene Gabriel Playwriting Award. El-Attar credited Horizon’s artistic director Lisa Adler for giving her the courage to write. In a mild surprise, Actor’s Express’ Pluto — written by former Atlantan Steve Yockey — was named Best World Premiere over Janece Shaffer’s elegant The Geller Girls at the Alliance. Accepting the award, Actor’s Express’ artistic director Freddie Ashley stressed the need for new work in the area. “The commitment to new work is really important and it takes courage,” he says. “I think we are lucky and blessed and fortunate. Let’s face it — we live in an area with scant resources and often a really inhospitable environment. Yet we must continue to produce new work and find voices like Steve Yockey.” Yockey and Actor’s Express won the award last year as well for Wolves.
Ashley also accepted the award for Outstanding Season, voted on by audience members. The 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award went to wig and hair designer Monty Schuth, while the volunteer of the year award went to Beverly Powell of Stage Door Players.
Of late, the Suzis have handed out awards in the Theatre for Young Audiences categories. This year the Center for Puppetry Art’s 1001 Nights: A Love Story about Loving Stories, created by Adam Koplan and Robert Lopez, received the top prize.
This year, a new award was created — the Callboard Award, honoring stage managers. It went to Wendell Johnson of Theatrical Outfit.
The ceremony was recorded by students and faculty in the TV production department of Chattahoochee Tech and will be broadcast on television on December 12 at 10 p.m. on PBA 30.
A full list of winners can be found on the Suzi Bass Awards website.