2015 Footlights Awards

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Our 2015 Footlight Awards

As the new year begins, we have looked back at the more than 60 plays that we (with Michael T. MooneyRuth Ross, and Sheila Abrams as guest contributors) had the opportunity to review since January 2014. The plays covered included mostly professional plus a small group of community theatre productions.

Due to overlapping schedules and other considerations it was, of course, not physically possible to cover the nearly 100 productions that invited us to review. That (with our edited review comments) is our selection of performers and productions to which 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.

INDIVIDUAL (Professional)

Judith Hawking in NJ Rep's Swimming At The Ritz:

"The success or failure...rests on the padded shoulders of Judith Hawking (above right)... (she) does not disappoint... graceful and imperious, deliciously chewing the scenery with impeccable diction and razor sharp timing. Hawking's energy is both irresistible and charming.​" (MTM)

Christopher Fitzgerald in Two River's​ 
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum:

 Christopher Fitzgerald (in red, fifth from left) as Pseudolus and the company

"(The musical) is best remembered for its star, the great Zero Mostel, as Pseudolus. Director Jessica Stone has chosen an actor small in stature but big of heart and talent. Christopher Fitzgerald sings very well, dances with energy, mugs with ferocity and generally fills the entire stage with the force of his personality whenever he's onstage—which is most of the time. His spot-on comedic timing is perfect for the physical comedy, as are his rubber joints and expressive face. He's ludicrous and endearing, and we root for him to achieve his desired goal.​" (RR)​

William Michals in Algonquin Arts' South Pacific

"Manasquan's Algonquin Arts Theatre (has) William Michals (as) Emile de Becque in Rodgers and Hammerstein's SOUTH PACIFIC....The 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical is the ideal showcase for Michals' rich baritone and intensely powerful performance style." (MTM)

Patricia Durante in 'Patsy" at The Women’s Theater

"The musical 'Always…Patsy Cline' starring Patricia Durante as Patsy with Barbara Babbitt as her fan and friend Louise Segar. These two ladies are a "dynamic duo."
First, Patricia Durante, one of our most talented actresses, demonstrates her fine vocal ability in singing 27 songs, including Patsy's biggest hits Crazy, I Fall to Pieces, Sweet Dreams and Walking After Midnight. 

For the better part of 90 minutes she IS Patsy Cline....the costumes, the brunette wig, the movements and, of course the voice. This is the same Patricia Durante that four years ago on this very same stage starred in "Enchanting April." In our review, we wrote "Ms. Durante, who bears a striking resemblance to Deborah Kerr including the red hair, is in one word "enchanting." Well, she enchants us again in "Always...Patsy Cline." (RB)

​INDIVIDUAL (Community)

​ Judy Laganga in "August: Osage County" at Chatham Community Players:

"Judy Laganga was extraordinary as the drug-addled, nasty mother. Better than Meryl Streep.​ As Violet, Judy Laganga's astounding performance will set your teeth on edge; she's venal, conniving,dishonest and manipulative all at the same time. Even when she's not onstage, Laganga's presence can be felt.' (RR)

Tom Morrissey in " Yankee Tavern" at the Barn Theatre:

"For the past four years we have each December published our New Jersey Footlights awards. The winners come from both the professional and community stages. Yes, this is only January, but we have already picked one of the 2015 winners. The actor we have selected is Tom Morrissey of Lincoln Park (left above). His performance, particularly in the first act, is at a show stopper pro level. It may be an over used line, but to see his Ray is worth the price of the admission." (RB) 

Victoria Steele  in "The Other Place" at Dover Little Theatre: 

"The last production here in New Jersey was at the professional Dreamcatcher Rep Company in Summit two seasons ago. We gave the play high marks with special recognition of the performance of the lead actress. This presentation, directed by Alison Devereaux, is equally impressive due in large part to the exciting, intense performance of her lead actress Victoria Steele (photo above). Ms. Steele is rarely off the stage as she beautifully negotiates the emotional roller coaster ride the part requires." (RB)

PLAY (Professional)

Eqivocation  at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey:

 Robert Cecil (Dominic Comperatore) and Shag (James Michael Reilly) Photo: Jerry Dalia
"This play with its fascinating political intrigue and veracity challenge is a superior production at every level….in other words…it is a theatre gem that certainly no lover of Shakespeare, in particular, should miss.

This production of Equivocation, directed with great style by STNJ veteran Paul Mullins, is a marvelous, fun ensemble piece in which six superior actors play well over a dozen roles." (RB/SA)

Thrill Me at Luna Stage:

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story

"Thrill Me, receiving its New Jersey professional premiere at Luna Stage, is horrific, chillingly intense and, well, thrilling. Under the taut direction of Artistic Director Cheryl Katz. Joe Bigelow (Nathan Leopold-Left) and Dean Linnard (Richard Loeb-right) take us on a rollercoaster ride of wild emotion, unrelieved yearning and mind-boggling thrill-seeking over the course of 90 intermissionless minutes.... Cheryl Katz was an amazing director!​" (RR)

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me  at the George Street Playhouse:

The real-life married couple, Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn, (who) have been creating and performing such hit shows as “Striking 12” and “Sleeping Beauty Wakes,” have returned to New Jersey, with their newest and most imaginative work yet." (MTM) 

Wait Until Dark at the Bickford Theatre (Morris Museum)

"Wait Until Dark is a first rate thriller (with plenty of chills) of the 1940's 'film noir' genre​...​ Director Eric Hafen (Bickford's Artistic Director) has assembled an all-star cast with first class production values. The six character play features Lauren Klemp (photo), Michael Irvin Pollard, Duncan M. Rogers, Jeff Maschi, Bob MacKay, and Sydney Soleil Stovall." (RB)

A Little Night Music  at Light Opera of New Jersey

Light Opera of New Jersey's lavish production of the Tony-Award winning classic A Little Night Music is a beautifully staged musical, a cross between opera and musical theater, blessed with a remarkable cast of fine singers/actors... mostly professional artists from New Jersey and New York City. This talented group is under the leadership of music director Lois Buesser, and stage director Jeffrey Fiorello, one of our leading directing talents.

The showstopper "Send In The Clowns" is sung by the marvelous Barbara Haag 
(center photo above) is an old line but, to hear Ms. Haag perform this now classic... you may find it is worth the price of admission. Robert Jacobson is a handsome, fine voiced Fredrik. He has fun with the amusing "It Could Have Been Wonderful" with the powerfully voiced Kevin Grace. 
Penny Hoadley as the wheelchair bound Madame Armfeldt has fun with "Liasions." The two wives are outstanding...Lauren Dwane as Anne and Sandra Taylor as the Countess. In the wings are the multi-talented, creators/producers of the LONJ.... Lauran (Artistic Director) and William Corson (Executive Producer). (RB)

​PLAY (Community)​

Inherit the Wind at the Barn Theatre:

Kevern Cameron (c) Christopher Gibbs (R) Photo: Tom Schopper

"The Barn Theatre in Montville is an all volunteer, non-professional community theater that is presenting the classic play "Inherit the Wind." This production directed by Todd Mills impressively blurs the line between professional and community theater. Mills has created an absolutely first class theater event the equal of most of the activity across the river.

​The cast is a marvelous group of mostly veteran actors who would impress on anyone's stage. The six leads are truly outstanding: Kevern Cameron is a perfect Matthew Harrison Brady 
(above center). His verbal sparring with Drummond that leads to a violent crescendo is live theater at its exciting best. Christopher Gibbs (above right), who is a cross between liberals Henry Fonda and Sam Waterston, is equally perfect as Drummond. These two actors carry the play up to a rarified level.​" (RB)

August, Osage County  at the Chatham Playhouse

(L-R) Judi Laganga,  Barbara Fordham and Bill Schineller (photo Howard Fisher)

"Once again, Jeffrey Fiorello demonstrates his superb directorial skills, moving the performers in this three-act play through the twists of plot and increasing dramatic tension to keep us on the edge of our seats wondering what could (not will) happen next. His cast includes CPP veterans as well as several talented newcomers—10 of whom work ensemble to form a credible family unit. And while each of them gets a "star turn" monologue (actually, a rant), the dramatic device never feels artificial or forced. 
Until the 2009-2010 season, the Chatham Community Players could be counted on for polished productions of pretty standard community theater fare, but since their edgy, smart production of The Pillowman, they have continued to give us theater to think about. In that vein, they have inaugurated their 93rd season with a stunning accomplishment. 

August, Osage County is a must-see, even if you saw the film (not so critically acclaimed) or the Broadway production. I promise you the experience will thrill you and leave you in awe of what great writing and great acting can accomplish." (RR)

Doubt at the Chester Theatre Group: ​

 Jackie Jacobi and Dale Monroe

"After several years and 200 plus play reviews we still marvel that the line between professional and community theater in New Jersey is so frequently blurred. Last night at Chester's Black River Playhouse, we saw a perfect example of the 'blur.' The play is John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize winning play, Doubt. 

This is a unique, and fascinating take on the pedophile controversy that continues to challenge the church. This production, directed by Kevern Cameron, could easily transition to any top Off-Broadway venue and win its share of raves.​" (RB)

We Remember Jay Mills:

Community theater giant, Jay Mills, was both a gifted actor and director - a dedicated volunteer and member of the Barn Theatre. He was a beloved friend to many - and he was the beloved patriarch of a combination of families that cherished and looked up to him daily, and greatly. Jay's contributions to the Barn Theatre over a period of 45 (yes, 45!) seasons is really too great to even fathom.

Note: All photos courtesy of the theaters

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