Local performers take the stage for the eighth annual Syracuse Area Live Theater Awards
It was the night show biz met Central New York biz, with “biz” as in business. In a major departure from the first seven years of the Syracuse New Times Syracuse Area Live Theater (SALT) Awards, held Sunday night, May 1, at Eastwood’s Palace Theatre, there were a host of new faces. They weren’t wearing greasepaint, either.
Under a new policy initiated by SALT president and New Times publisher Bill Brod, community and business leaders handled all the introductions. Whereas previously presenters were show folk, often from rival companies, perhaps with an ax to grind, the new faces included the likes of Dr. Fred Pestello, president of Le Moyne College; Jim Joseph, president and CEO of Oneida Limited; and Andrew Russo, concert pianist turned state senatorial candidate turned stockbroker. These gave a decidedly soberer tone than last year.
Although several presenters cited the detailed instructions Brod’s invitation had included, many began to improvise gags on the contrasts most visible between the worlds of actors, singers and directors on one hand and engineers, lawyers and accountants on the other. These got better as the evening wore on, especially when the suits frequently struggled with envelope malfunctions. Ron Peckham of the C&S Companies, for example, observed that “engineers use their personality for birth control—and it works too damn well.”
This led veteran player Bill Molesky to remark, “I’m glad my father wasn’t an engineer or else I wouldn’t be here.” Molesky modestly thanked director Dan Tursi for allowing him to make his entrance on wheels for Appleseed Productions’ Luther, a means of accommodating his movement difficulties. Announcing also that he’s planning to leave the area soon, Molesky offered that this, his seventh SALT Award, was likely to be his last.
Some presenters new to the ceremonies took the occasion to introduce themselves, their organizations or their visions. Quite a few praised the performing arts for enriching the community. Others noted their own previous forays onto the floorboards. Rosie Taravella, vice president for corporate achievement at WCNY, has an acting resume that includes appearances on the sitcoms Who’s the Boss? and Married. . . with Children, and she brought along tales of her Left Coast past. Remarking on a TV commercial she did during the tail end of her Los Angeles career, Taravella deadpanned, “When you’re cast with a guy with hair on his back, it’s time to get out of show business.”
This meant that some new-style introductions were a smidgen longer than old-style, but that was compensated for by generally shorter acceptance speeches. Binaifer Dabu took top honors here for her supporting role in Star Wars: The Musical, which included a pitch-perfect recreation of R2D2’s screeches, squawks and whistles. The entire evening ran to 9:40 p.m., 10 minutes beyond the scheduled conclusion.
In the awards, shows with assertive women—a diva, a forthright wife, a murderess and a dancing showgirl bride who does splits dominated the voting this year. One of these girls was also a Cinderella, and that’s the little-seen Salt City Center for the Performing Arts production of Terence McNally’s Master Class. Six awards are payback for all those empty seats last fall at the Mulroy Civic Center. The Academy voted Master Class as Play of the Year and Cathleen O’Brien for Actress of the Year, opinions repeated in the People’s Choice Awards. Newcomer Crystal Sikora took home the prize for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, and Frank Fiumano, no stranger to the awards, won as Director of the Year/Play. In a New Times interview 13 years ago, Fiumano said Master Class was one of his all-time favorite dramas. O’Brien, one of the few community players with wide operatic experience, really knew what was inside Maria Callas.
The steadfast wife was Lucille Frank, sung by Syracuse University music instructor Bridget Moriarty, who stood by her husband when he faced a vicious mob in Georgia in Parade, the Alfred Uhry-John Robert Brown show mounted by Appleseed Productions. Moriarty won for both Best Actress in a Musical and Musical Director, while Parade won big for Best Musical of the Year, the last and climactic item on the program. Although director-choreographer Meghan L. Pearson did not take home a personal trophy, she unmistakably astonished the Academy by bringing to life a flop show with a huge cast and a semi-Sondheimian score on a really depressing subject.
Then again, look how winning the murderess Lizzie Borden turned out to be. Garrett Heater wrote his own play to launch his new outfit, the Covey Theatre Company, a two-layer risk. And he won twice, for Best New Production in a more competitive field than usual, and for Best Costumes, while up against professional companies. Heater’s favor with the Academy continued with his prize as Best Actor in a Musical for Cabaret for Wit’s End Players.
When it came to the summer season, it was the bride not the chaperone who got all the attention. In the first clean sweep of a category, Auburn’s Merry-Go-Round Playhouse took all the prizes for The Drowsy Chaperone: Best Production, Best Male Lead (Robert Moss) and Best Female Lead (Bethany Moore). An ill-mannered cynic might argue that the presence of Bob Moss, still highly popular with Academy members from his years heading Syracuse Stage, meant that Chaperone was also the most seen summer production.
On closer scrutiny, however, each award seems plausible. The leggy Moore has long been a company favorite (Ulla in The Producers and Thoroughly Modern Millie) who has been nominated before. And while Moss is usually self-deprecatory about his abilities as an actor (“I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I’m not an actor,” Moss recalled about producer Ed Sayles’ cajoling before he capitulated with “OK, it’s your funeral!”), Sayles restaged the show to suit Moss’ timing and delivery. Anyway, MGR came up with a crisper, funnier version than was seen in New York City or on the road.
Turning to the professional companies, the SALT Academy paid Syracuse Stage a very mixed compliment by bestowing the Best Production award on Lookingglass Alice. Admittedly a wondrous spectacle and a box-office champ, Alice was produced in Chicago and only invited here for a visit. All the same, the Academy still gave artistic-producing director Tim Bond a vote as Best Director, without citing a show, over Alice’s director David Catlin.
The Academy also chose to honor two veterans who have long done splendid work, much-loved by their fellow players, who never found themselves at the right place in previous award times. That would include David Walker in the long-postponed (because of the death of artistic director Joseph Lotito) production of Driving Miss Daisy for Salt City. “In 1994,” Walker recalled about the first Daisy mounting, “I bugged the everlovin’ shit out of Joe Lotito to do the role.”
The other was the Lifetime Achievement Award to the tall, willowy and ever-glamorous Rosemary Palladino Leone. In a moment of self-mockery, Leone cracked, “This proves that if you hang around long enough you’re bound to win something. Well, I did, and I did!” Finally, in a burst of affection she would not have tolerated during her lifetime, Post Standard and Herald-Journal arts mavenne Joan E. Vadeboncoeur was a strong winner for the Hall of Fame Award. Hers was the only standing ovation of the evening.
The SALT Class of 2011: Top row, from left: Bridget Moriarty, Dana Sovocool, David Lowenstein, Garrett Heater and Jodi Bova. Second row, from left: Binaifer Dabu, Meghan L. Pearson, Bill Molesky, Rosemary Palladino Leone, Stephen Beebe, Cathleen O’Brien and Frank Fiumano.
And the awards go to: Clockwise from top left, David Walker cruises to a win for Driving Miss Daisy; Binaifer Dabu becomes Mrs. Roboto during her Star Wars: The Musical riff, as West Genesee Central Schools Superintendent Dr. Christopher Brown looks on; David Lowenstein makes all the right moves as Director of the Year/Musical; Cathleen O’Brien and Frank Fiumano need to back up the truck for their Master Class awards haul; and perennial SALT winner Bill Molesky (second from left) amuses Merry-Go-Round honcho Ed Sayles and other onlookers at the Palace post-party.
The stars come out at night: Top row, Susan Basile (second from left) poses with SALT Scholarship winners Rachael Mon-Thiel, Kassandra Melendez-Ramirez and Robert Sherman; Syracuse New Times publisher Bill Brod and his wife Lisette oversee the ceremony. Second row, Garrett Heater accepts for his Best Costumer honor, as Bill Veit from the Scotsman Press finishes his presenter chores; Rosemary Palladino Leone gets happy after receiving a Lifetime Achievement award. Third row, Bridget Moriarty in one of her several trips to the podium; Bob Moss gets peppy following his Drowsy Chaperone win; Dana Sovocool gets poignant while thanking the Academy for his Falsettos victory. Fourth row: Jodi Bova declares “I’m pregnant and hormonal” during her Cabaret win for Best Choreography.