The trick is to memorize a short gag and deliver it like an ad-lib. Early on costumer Jeanette Reyner set the pace. As a non-performer herself she admitted to being nervous while speaking before an audience but she could buck herself up by thinking, “I’ll bet there are a hundred of you out there that I’ve seen in your underwear!”
Roll call: Josh Mele (pictured) clutches his SALT Award.
Among the most memorable acceptance speeches was that of a previously unknown pre-teen boy when the announcement came for the Best Male Performance in a summer production, given to Tad Wilson of Les Miserables at Auburn’s Merry-Go-Round Playhouse. “I’m not Tad Wilson,” the winner’s son shouted. “He’s my father and he’s the coolest guy in the world. He’s awesome. He can’t be here because he’s in a Broadway show now called Rock of Ages.”
Navroz Dabu spoofs previous SALT winners’ lengthy list of thank yous.
A new policy on presenters brought two or more persons on stage who would then cover at least two categories, thus reducing time in transition. This sometimes had the effect of turning two randomly selected players into dual ad-libbers. Thus, plus-sized Gennaro Parlato picked up 4-foot-11 Binaifer Dabu, a bit larger than one of his legs, and offered, “I’m supporting you, I’m supporting,” before presenting awards to supporting players. These efforts worked as the uninterrupted awards ran from 7 to 9:22 p.m., a full seven minutes shorter than last year. When Frank Fiumano promised, “I’ll be short, as short as I can,” his co-presenter Michael Spinoso immediately fell to floor and curled up like a sleeping cocker spaniel.
Not everything went smoothly, however. Some categories were read out of order, for which the SALT emcee, Syracuse New Times publisher Art Zimmer, blamed his own paperwork. Some presenters and contestants turned the mixup to their advantage, especially Bob Greene of the Acme Mystery Dinner Theatre, who still had some of the best gags.
County Executive Joanie Mahoney, also quick on her feet, graciously allowed that she was glad to have gone out of order so that she could speak of the late Barbara Gibbons, who was the Hall of Fame Award winner. Mahoney said Gibbons had really encouraged her to run for office.
The biggest laugh of the evening also turned on the question of brevity and timing. After her Talent Company won a People’s Choice award, Christine Lightcap acknowledged that she had heard some criticism for lengthy acceptance speeches and said if she went too long this time people should put up their hands. When a forest of arms rose before her, she barked, “Not yet!”
Former artistic director Bob Moss may have departed Syracuse Stage, but not his snug place in the hearts of SALT Academy voters. While the rivalries of different community theater companies have supplied much of the drama during most previous SALT Awards nights, this time the top story came in the first few minutes. It was a big fat valentine to Moss as best director and his mounting of Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore as Best Professional Play of the Year. Unmistakably moved by the honors in the year after he gave up the reins, Moss quipped that he had read of himself described as one of Manhattan’s unsung heroes of live theater, but, holding up the trophy, “Clearly, I’m not unsung in Syracuse.”
Moss’s last show in these parts, The Playboy of the Western World at Ithaca’s Hangar Theatre last August, was also nominated but did not win. Work from the current Syracuse Stage regime was shut out. Even Ping Chong’s hand-clapping celebration of marginalized populations, Tales from the Salt City, lost as Best Original Production to Jimmy Wachter’s short-run tribute show, Color Me Streisand.
As usual, the hottest race this year was for the community theater musical, which pitted the Talent Company’s The Producers against Wit’s End Players’ Sweeney Todd. In the free-form People’s Choice voting, The Producers swept the category, with Katie Lemos as best female, Joe Spado as best male and the show itself taking top prize. Among Academy members, all the voting went the other way, with Tina Lee taking the honors for best supporting female, Jodie Baum best female lead, Josh Mele best male and Sweeney Todd taking the top slot. But, hey, this isn’t Iraq. Wit’s End founder and namesake David Witanowski also appeared as the mad Nazi playwright in The Producers, and he took home the prize for best male supporting player.
Out-of-town awards don’t always command as much attention from the crowd as those for Syracuse shows, but two against-the-odds winners were especially sweet. Longtime Merry-Go-Round stalwart Maureen Quigley came in at the last minute to play the crotchety Vivian in the comedy Church Basement Ladies. Not only was she 30 years too young for the role, but the rest of the production had been imported from Minnesota. Still, she scored.
Down at Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre Company last June we were supposed to see the first of two area productions of Stephen Temperley’s Souvenir, on the life of the world’s worst soprano, Florence Foster Jenkins. Syracuse Stage canceled its January run in favor of Stephen Sondheim’s Putting It Together. Further, the Kitchen production, in a 73-seat venue, was cut short when cast member David Beach was taken ill. Still, enough Academy members saw it to vote the Ithaca show a winner.
Night of lots and lots of stars: From top, County Executive Joanie Mahoney cites the late actress Barbara Gibbons as an influence; Syracuse Stage associate artistic director Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj shows his true colors; former artistic director Robert Moss takes one final bow at Syracuse Stage; Tina Lee gets happy during her win for Wit’s End Players’ Sweeney Todd; Syracuse New Times stage critic James MacKillop encounters sidewalk serendipity with Talent Company honcho Chris Lightcap and The Producers’ winning actor Joe Spado; getting verklempt following the win for Rarely Done’s Color Me Streisand as Best Original Production; and a vibrant Kate Huddleston, despite a Lifetime Achievement Award, seems to have another lifetime of shows ahead of her.
SYRACUSE AREA LIVE THEATER 2009 AWARD
Play of the Year: The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Syracuse Stage).
Director of the Year: Robert Moss.
Play of the Year: Agnes of God (Simply New).
Musical of the Year: Sweeney Todd (Wit’s End).
Leading Actress in a Musical: Jodie Baum, Sweeney Todd (Wit’s End).
Supporting Actress in a Musical:. Tina Lee, Sweeney Todd (Wit’s End).
Leading Actor in a Musical: Josh Mele, Sweeney Todd (Wit’s End).
Supporting Actor in a Musical: David Witanowski, The Producers (Talent Company).
Leading Actress in a Play: Karis Wiggins, Agnes of God (Simply New).
Supporting Actress in a Play: Katharine Gibson, Agnes of God (Simply New).
Leading Actor in a Play: Bill Molesky, The Importance of Being Earnest (Simply New).
Supporting Actor in a Play: Rob Fonda, Dog Sees God (Rarely Done).
Director of the Year/Play: John Nara.
Director of the Year/Musical: David Witanowski.
Musical Director of the Year: Jon Balcourt.
Non-Performing Person of the Year: Navroz Dabu.
Production of the Season: Souvenir (Kitchen Theatre Company).
Actress of the Season: Maureen Quigley, Church Basement Ladies (Merry-Go-Round).
Actor of the Season: Tad Wilson, Les Miserables (Merry-Go-Round).
HALL OF FAME
(No Longer Active)
Shannon Tompkins, Sweeney Todd (Wit’s End).
COSTUMER OF THE YEAR
Jeanette Reyner, The Producers (Talent Company).
BEST ORIGINAL NEW
Color Me Streisand (Rarely Done).
PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARDS
Production of the Year: The Producers.
Actress of the Year: Katie Lemos.
Actor of the Year: Joe Spado.
SANDRA C. HAASE AWARD
Other nominees: Barb Bova, Dan Randall, Kevin Surrette
SALT SCHOLARSHIP AWARD
Evan Andrew Davies, Nottingham, Playwriting.
Morgan Alexandra Cambs, Manlius Pebble Hill, Acting.
Ryan MacConnell, Chittenango, Musical Theater.
On with the show people: Clockwise from above, Rob Fonda celebrates his Best Supporting Actor honor; Frank Fiumano hosts a slumber party with Michael Spinoso; hanging out at the posh after-party at Phoebe’s; Binaifer Dabu is handled with care by Gennaro Parlato; and SALT winners gather for this year’s victory photo.