James MacKillop and Bill DeLapp
Credit director Sara Caliva and stage manager Cynthia Reid for tightening the pace of the 13th annual Syracuse New Times Syracuse Area Live Theater (SALT) Awards, held Nov. 5 at Syracuse Stage.
Technical difficulties delayed the start until after 8 p.m., and the show ran without intermission until 11:20 p.m. It was a longish haul, to be sure, but there was always something happening on the Archbold stage to maintain the interest of the packed audience, with plenty of sippy-cup libations to complement the good cheer.
There were 11 selections from different shows, including video clips and live-action performances, yet these moments never slowed things down. Having key presenters take on a sequence of awards also trimmed a lot of walking on and off the stage.
The Coachmen, again serving as the evening’s musical component, were instructed to strike up the band whenever acceptance speeches threatened to dawdle, albeit to mixed effect. Josh Mele, on stage to accept his SALT award for Central New York Playhouse’s Chicago, simply syncopated his words to fit the music and carried on.
State Sen. John DeFrancisco and WSYR-Channel 9’s Bridge Street personality Sistina Giordano served as co-hosts. Although not part of the theater community, bothexceeded expectations with light and brief banter. DeFrancisco even got off some funnies, like claiming to have been in the original cast of American Idiot. Both were conscientious in pronouncing obscure or exotic names, better than many actors who should have known better.
Because the SALT Academy heaped awards on a few favorites, like Syracuse Stage’s How I Learned to Drive or Baldwinsville Theatre Guild’s The Elephant Man, it became harder and harder to give spontaneous or crisp acceptance speeches. General manager Jon Wilson, representing Syracuse Stage, which dominated many professional categories, again made a running gag out of his constant running onto the stage to accept the company’s awards.
Syracuse New Times stage critic James MacKillop offered a lengthy yet loving tribute to former Kitchen Theater Company artistic director Rachel Lampert, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award. MacKillop noted that several important recent plays were first performed at Ithaca’s Kitchen before those shows were mounted at Syracuse Stage. Lampert, who retired from Kitchen last June, offered hope that perhaps there could be some future “collaborations” between her and other Central New York companies.
Community theater treasures David Minikhiem and Geno Parlato were also on hand to salute the legacy of actor-choreographer Fred Houser, the posthumous honoree of the SALT Hall of Fame Award. Both actors recalled their teen years with Houser, as all three were bitten by the acting bug in the early 1980s. Houser’s childhood friend Teresa Thomas McCarthy offered more poignant memories about the pair’s attempts to travel from their homes in distant Cleveland, N.Y., so they could audition for Syracuse-based productions. Houser had lead roles in The Rocky Horror Show, No No Nanette, 42nd Street and Oklahoma! with local outfits including the Talent Company, Salt City Playhouse and Syracuse Musical Theatre.
Auburn’s Merry-Go-Round Playhouse grabbed key awards for its summertime mounting of Parade, the fact-based musical drama about prejudice and murder in 1913 Atlanta. Artistic director Brett Smock noted that while MGR knew the show would not score at the box office, it did lure some new theatergoers who had never attended the Owasco Lake venue. Smock’s declaration that perhaps companies “should start programming shows that will piss people off” received thunderous applause from the SALT audience. SNT