The Winners for the Best of Cleveland Theater in 2015 Are... 

A year of edgy excellence

Sure, giving awards for creative pursuits is essentially stupid. But we keep doing it because rewarding excellence is better than allowing lame stuff to shuffle around, trying to pass itself off as something better.

So in an effort to ward off mediocrity in all its pervasive forms, here are (peal of trumpets and coronets, please) my Theater Excellence Awards for the calendar year 2015, arranged somewhat randomly in arbitrary "Best Of ..." categories. Hey, deal with it.

Best Upside-Down Singing

This award goes hands-down (up?) to the often upside-down Pat Miller. In Bat Boy, the Musical at Blank Canvas Theater, Miller created a vulnerable, hilarious bat-human creature that you'd like to take home to mother. Especially if mother is one of the ...

Best Witches in Cleveland

In the magnificent production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, director Laura Kepley summoned dark feelings and many shivers from her superb Cleveland Play House cast. And it was played out on Scott Bradley's awesome, evocative set.

Best Play to Love ... or Hate

While Green Day's American Idiot was not everyone's favorite cup of bile, it worked — thanks to Scott Spence's energetic direction and the muscular choreography by Martin Cespedes.

Best Play by a Local Playwright

In The Mighty Scarabs! at Karamu House, playwright Hubert Calhoun III told the story of the awesome East Tech basketball team that trounced opponents back in the late 1950s. In a play that featured exceptional performances by Rodney Freeman, Prophet Seay and Katrice Headd, Calhoun captured a signature Cleveland vibe.

Best Touring Stage Glitz

Kinky Boots (love those 10-inch platform heels!) and the musical fireworks in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, both at Playhouse Square.

Best Charming Young Guys

You couldn't find two more winning performances by young fellows than Robert Hunter in Superior Donuts at Dobama and Warren Egypt Franklin III in Godspell at Cain Park.

Best Performances in Small(er) Roles

John Busser as nice guy Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire at Mamai Theatre.

Valerie C. Kilmer as Rusty in Rosalynde and the Falcon at Talespinner Childrens Theatre.

J. Todd Adams as a Joker-ish Caliban in The Tempest at Great Lakes Theater.

Kelvette Beacham as Oda Mae in Ghost at Mercury Theatre Company.

Alex Smith as Roy Cohn in Angels in America at Baldwin Wallace University.

Best Acting Punch by One Person

Aled Davies in the title role in King Lear at Great Lakes Theater. Greg White as Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall in Thurgood, and then as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, both at Ensemble Theatre. Faye Hargate in Feefer Rising at CPT.

Best Acting Punch by Two People

In First Love by Charles Mee at None Too Fragile Theater, Robert Hawkes and Anne McEvoy conquered a flawed script. And Allan Byrne and Allen Branstein excelled as two old dudes in Ages of the Moon at Ensemble Theatre.

Best Troubled Men and Women

Michael May as the compelling, tragic figure Loomis in Joe Turner's Come and Gone at Karamu.

Rachel Lee Kolis' physical performance as the sad clown Brandy in Tall Skinny Cruel Cruel Boys, produced by Theater Ninjas.

Liz Conway as Fiona in in a word at Cleveland Public Theatre.

(I called her extended pas de deux with a Kit Kat Bar "the most trenchant human interaction with chocolate since Willy Wonka boffed the Swiss Miss on the Cocoa Cruiser ride at Hershey Park.")

Neely Gevaart in the title role in Violet at Lakeland Civic Theatre.

Bernadette Clemens as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire at Mamai Theatre.

Best (Almost) Side-by-Side Monologues

In Bash: Latterday Plays by Neil LaBute at None Too Fragile Theater, Andrew Narten and Alanna Romansky nailed their respective monologues under the deft direction of Sean Derry.

Best Set Shots

Todd Krispinsky's weathered deck/boat and Benjamin Gantose's evocative lighting in Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea at Cleveland Public Theatre.

The mini-screen and full stage projections engineered by T. Paul Lowry in The Turing Machine produced by Theater Ninjas.

The lush garden created by Ian Hinz in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo at Ensemble Theatre.

The luxe period suite by Charlie Corcoran in A Comedy of Tenors at the Cleveland Play House.

The jar-laden set designed by director Beth Wood and lighted by Benjamin Gantose in in a word at CPT.

Linda Buchanan's collapsing world in King Lear at Great Lakes Theater.

Best Scenery Chewers

Two at Dobama: Geoff Knox in OR and Christopher Bohan as Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher.

One at the Ohio Shakespeare Festival: Bernard Bygott as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.

Best Actor/Set Designer Partnership

Robert Hawkes, who brilliantly played elderly Judge Francis Biddle on Ron Newell's magnificent lived-in set in Trying at Clague Playhouse.

Ahh, bathing in excellence ... what a feeling! Can't wait for the good stuff in 2016.



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