Wednesday, December 26, 2012

New Jersey Footlight Awards for 2012

As the year comes to a close we looked back at the 56 plays that we had the opportunity to review since January 2012. The plays we covered included mostly professional plus a small group of community theatre productions.

Due to overlapping schedules and travel concerns because of weather and other considerations it was, of course, not physically possible to cover the nearly 100 productions that invited us to review. That (with our review comments) is our selection of performers and/or productions that we award a "Footlight" for excellence. This was no easy task, the level of performances were equal to most of the activity across the Hudson. Not surprising since much of our talent works both sides of the river. Simply is alive and well in New Jersey. 


John Bedford Lloyd and Aisha Hinds

"Aisha Hinds, (George Street Playhouse "Best of Enemies") a television and film veteran, is superb (this may be an understatement) as Ann Atwater, a tough, sarcastic woman who has suffered much of her life. Married at gunpoint, abandoned by her husband and recently unemployed after being dismissed from a longtime position in a wealthy white home for objecting to constant demeaning treatment, she has the courage to stand up to the discrimination and becomes a voice for her community. Aisha can convey more with a raised eyebrow than most can do with a page of script."

Scott McGowan and Noreen Farley
"Noreen Farley (fabulous in last season's "Blood...a comedy") and Scott McGowan were truly outstanding in Dreamcatcher's world premiere production of "Neighborhood" by Artistic Director Laura Ekstrand.

Scott McGowan and Christine Marie Heath
Scott McGowan also for "I Do! I Do!" at the Bickford Theatre in Morristown last May. "This was an utterly charming gem of a production."

William Michals (right) and cast of "The Man of La Mancha"

 William Michals (Shakespeare Theatre of NJ's "Man of La Mancha") "Back to the word 'spectacular,' what lifts this production from merely 'excellent' to the spectacular level can be stated in two words....William Michals. His magnificent baritone voice, whether speaking or singing, as well as his physical appearance and performing skills are superior to a very fine cast. Please understand, this is a very fine cast, all excellent actors worthy of any national stage. Michals, however, is world class. It may be an overused expression, but in this one case I believe to be completely true..."it is worth the price of admission to see and hear William Michals."

Howard McGillin and Stacie Morgain Lewis

Howard McGillin (George Street's "39 Steps") "Leading the fun parade is two-time Tony Award nominee Howard McGillin. McGillin is perfect as the John Cleese-like 'man-on-the run' Richard Hannay. Whether comedy or drama, McGillin always impresses (he just finished as The Devil in the Paper Mill's 'Damn Yankees' and of course, his record-setting performance in the title role of The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway)."

Liz Zazzi
Liz Zazzi: "A quirky gem of a comedy is on stage at the Burgdorf Cultural Center in Maplewood featuring the the lady we consider 'The Queen of New Jersey comedy' the always wonderful Liz Zazzi. Zazzi always amazes us with her special talent to lift any production she is in. However, no special lift is needed in The Theater Project's off-the wall production of Jeff Whitty's "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler."

Pascale Armand
Pascale Armand: (McCarter Center's "Convert") "This is an outstanding cast, led by Pascale Armand, in a powerful, thoughtful drama...(with a) dramatic, kick in the stomach Act Three... and the thunderous standing ovation that followed."

Carl Wallnau
Carl Wallnau: (Centenary Stage Company's "Ladies Man") "This handsome production is directed by the CSC's Artistic Director and frequent star, Carl Wallnau. Not only a fine director of comedy, he is also a master of casting. He wisely chose for the leading role, Dr. Hercule Molineaux, the star of CSC's 2010 'Oliver' (Fagan) Carl Wallnau. Carl is perfect in this wacky role."

Mark Linn-Baker
Mark Linn-Baker: (George Street Playhouse's " One Slight Hitch") "The show is a belly-laugh event for most of the evening largely due to two superior comedy actors who play a long-married couple, Lisbeth Mackay as Delia Coleman, a Broadway veteran who recently played Delia in the Williamstown Theatre Festival production and Mark Linn-Baker as Doc Coleman, also a Broadway veteran, plus film and television." The show was a star-turn for Mark and he shined."

J.C. Hoyt (upper right) with cast of "The Fantasticks"

J.C Hoyt: (Women's Theater Company' "The Fantasticks") "It is small scale musical, with minimalist set design, that has a cast of eight including veteran actor, J.C Hoyt, who performed in the original Sullivan Street production. Hoyt's spot-on performance as the faded Shakespearean actor Henry, who makes his entrance by climbing out of an old trunk, is worth the price of admission alone." 
Steve Graham

Steve Graham: (Growing Stage's "Suessical") "The play is beautifully designed to entertain all ages, grandparents, parents, teens, and youngsters down to three. Everything about this production that features six excellent equity performers, plus a cast of adult and junior community players is a delight. This, of course, is what we have come to expect from Steve Fredericks and company. The large cast of 31 is led by Steve Graham as The Cat in the Hat. He is absolutely perfect as the exuberant narrator and ringmaster.


Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce

"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" (McCarter Center) "A new play from Christopher Durang at the McCarter Theatre Center. Following the McCarter, on October 25 it opened at New York’s Lincoln Center Theater."

"Not only is it a very funny evening of absurd satire from the master of satire Durang, it is blessed with a fantastic cast that includes three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver,
four-time Emmy Award winner David Hyde Pierce, and Obie Award winner Kristine Nielsen."

"12 Angry Men" (George Street Playhouse) "A flawless, thrilling performance by a superior cast of film, tv and Broadway veterans. This is an ensemble effort where it may be wrong to single out anyone performer....each was excellent in their role."

"The Sound of Music" (Paper Mill Playhouse) "For every lover of this America classic this is a must see event. For those who simply love live musical theater this is a spectacular treat for both the eye and the ear."

"A Chorus Line" (Paper Mill Playhouse) "The Paper Mill Playhouse's production that premiered this past the song "One" it is a singular sensation. The production is excellent...exciting from curtain to curtain, for a show almost 40 years old it is anything but stale. It should not, of course, come as a surprise since the cast of 26 that director and choreographer Mitzi Hamilton assembled are largely veterans of the recent Broadway revival and the national touring company."

"The Liar" (Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey) "What takes this play to a special level, adding greatly to the enjoyment, is that the entire play is delivered in very clever, very amusing modern rhyming verse. "The Liar" is a fun romantic event that, of course, has a happy ending (with a nice twist)."

"The Mousetrap": (Centenary Stage Company) "New Jersey fans don't have to cross the Atlantic to see an absolutely first rate production of "The Mousetrap." The producers are now permitting productions outside London.This past weekend the very creative folks at Centenary Stage Company premiered their faithful version of "The Mousetrap." We saw the play in London in its 40th year and the production we saw this week in Hackettstown is the equal to London. First: the set is perfect, an impressive recreation of the Great Hall of a small English country inn by Emmy Award-winning set designer Bob Phillips. Second: There is the matter of the cast; perfect again, director Carl Wallnau has a terrific cast of eight, all but two are Equity professionals; and Third: the superior Agatha Christie "whodunit" plot with a twist ending, which the audience is traditionally asked not to reveal after leaving the theatre."

"Man of La Mancha" "The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's spectacular production of the musical "Man of La Mancha." Director Bonnie J. Monte has produced an exciting retelling of the story of Miguel de Cervantes' creation "Don Quixote." 


Katherine LeFevre as Sally Bowles at the Kit Kat Klub

"Cabaret" The final production of the 2011-12 season at one of New Jersey's premiere community theatres, the Chatham Community Players in Chatham, is a 'must-see' masterful staging of one of the great musicals of all time, the Tony Award winning musical, "Cabaret."

"Noises Off": (The Barn Theatre) "We saw a stunning production of "Noises Off" with a wonderfully talented cast out Marx-ing the Marx Brothers at their madcap, door slamming, door opening wild best. Plus a most impressive moveable set far above what might be expected from a community theatre of non-professionals. But of course, this is The Barn Theatre that has for many years (85th season) won raves for the quality of its productions, certainly equal to Off-Broadway and very often better."
Photos-Chatham: Howard Fisher;  Shakespeare: Gerry Goldstein; McCarter, George Street Playhouse and Paper Mill: T. Charles Erickson; Liz Zazzi and Steve Graham: Rick Busciglio; Centenary:  Carl Wallnau; Barn: Tom Schopper.

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