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Salt Shakers

By James MacKillop and Bill DeLapp

Change was in the air at this year’s Syracuse New Times Syracuse Area Live Theater (SALT) Awards. A wholly new SALT Academy roster of voters, excluding anyone with New Times affiliation, commenced last year, when the “season” was redefined as September to August instead of January to December. New categories were introduced this year, such as separate competitions for sound and lighting designers in both talk-talk plays and in musicals.

The shrinking of other categories, meanwhile, perhaps a means of speeding up the awards ceremony, has severely pinched longtime contenders. The splendid summer companies at Auburn’s Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, Cortland Repertory Theatre and Ithaca’s Hangar and Kitchen theaters, now in the general “professional” slot, must feel they are like the undercard Republican debate candidates when the Academy smiles on the hometown favorites at the Redhouse and Syracuse Stage.

Although the same Academy voters rank both professional and community companies, their behavior differs wildly from one group to the other. Professional winners were mostly favorites, like last December’s Hairspray, which deserves the laurels. But the co-production of the Syracuse University Drama Department and Syracuse Stage enjoys an extended run and usually does the best box office of any show of the year. This makes all the more remarkable Cortland Repertory’s three wins, especially Wendi R. Zea’s costumes in 1776.

The Redhouse was cited for Broadway Bound, including Laura Austin (Best Actress), Anthony Malchar (Best Actor) and Steven Svoboda (Best Director), yet Neil Simon’s autobiographical comedy was one of the company’s least characteristic works. Perhaps the Academy was so fixed on Austin as a heartbreaking madwoman or a doomed aesthete, it was bowled over to see her as a put-upon lower-middle-class housewife. Svoboda’s finest moment of the year was his Oscar Wilde tribute in February, especially A Man of No Importance, the most affecting new musical seen on the Syracuse New Times beat last season.

A signal failure in the professional category is the total neglect of the Ithaca companies, always of interest to Syracuse New Times readers. Kitchen Theatre Company, the most innovative in the area, was a SALT winner from the first. Did no one see Spring Awakening at the Hangar? Its artistic standards are second to none.

With community companies, on the other hand, the Academy was diligent and searching. Who could have predicted Justin Polly for Best Actor in RFK at Appleseed Productions? “Little-seen” does not do it. RFK was originally half of a double bill before the other half vanished. Then opening-weekend performances were canceled because of an illness in the crew one night, and snow the next.

It was a good season for Central New York Playhouse, Shoppingtown’s most vibrant tenant, with key wins for The Laramie Project. Yet it was a boom year for Baldwinsville Theatre Guild. The Academy gave overdue praise to Kathy Egloff, the hardest-working person on local stages, for Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein and the Igor of Josh Taylor, who also won for Best Set Designer on that show, plus Best Non-Performer for his offstage contributions for Jekyll & Hyde, which he graciously shared with Michelle Luzzi.

This was the last competition for the Covey Theatre Company, previously a SALT champ. Garrett Heater won for Best Director for Hair, Aubry Ludington Panek for Best Supporting Actress in God of Carnage, and co-founder Susan Blumer was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. And for sentiment, nothing could top the almost-invisible Salt City Center for the Performing Arts’ revival at Central New York Playhouse’s Shoppingtown space, with a Best Actress award for Nora O’Dea in Doubt.

The 11th annual SALT Awards show, held Sunday, Oct. 25, at Syracuse Stage’s Archbold Theater, lured a wild and rowdy crowd of nearly 300, and they weren’t in the mood for polite golf clapping, either. Many were in party-hearty mode, as the event sometimes felt like what would happen if the Tony Awards were being handed out during a tractor pull.

Maintaining their dignity throughout, co-hosts Rita Worlock and Abel Searor kept the show flowing during the early going with gentle sparring amid the ad-libs. The Professional Theater prizes were doled out in quick fashion, with production numbers from Covey’s Hair, Salt City Center’s Fiddler on the Roof and Baldwinsville’s Young Frankenstein sprinkled throughout the first hour. Yet the event slowly unraveled during the Non-Professional segment, with the ceremony eventually calling it quits after nearly three hours. This year there wasn’t an overlong Tina Lee acceptance speech that could be used as an easy scapegoat.

There were moments that could only be described as unexplainable. National theater impresario Richard Jay-Alexander, the Solvay-bred talent who adorned the Oct. 21 cover of the Syracuse New Times, was on hand via Skype hookup to present the Professional Musical honor. “I wore my jacket for you,” he told the audience from his Miami residence, “but I don’t have my underwear on. Hey, what do you expect: It’s Sunday night.” Yet instead of projecting his face on the screen hanging above the stage, Jay-Alexander’s image was broadcast from the left side of the stage on a flat-screen TV monitor that maybe measured 30 inches wide, in a segment that came across like a vintage Max Headroom episode.

There was also a posthumous tribute to Syracuse theater talents such as Christine Lightcap, Joe Lotito and many others, presented with scrapbook-like images on the screen while Sara Weiler and other singers performed a touching “What I Did For Love” from A Chorus Line. The only problem was that there was no attempt to identify the names of the deceased as the parade of old photos passed by. If you’re going to pay respect, you have to get it right.

There were several surprises along the way. Former SALT director Ty Marshal, looking resplendent in a blazing white jacket that might have been filched from Col. Harlan Sanders’ closet, passed the baton to new director Liam Fitzpatrick — but not before Marshal presented a glossary of community theater lingo such as “blocking” and “dropped cues.”

Also, Covey director Garrett Heater praised absent winner Aubry Ludington Panek as “an actress with balls”; there was a sing-along for birthday girl Korrie Taylor; much fun was poked about Central New York Playhouse honcho Dustin Czarny’s need to wear sunglasses at SALT affairs (maybe he’s taking a cue from Jack Nicholson’s appearance at the Academy Awards), as Tina Lee warbled a lyric from Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night”; and presenter Anne Fitzgerald lamented, “I started out wearing a strapless bra and I don’t know where it went. Maybe it just gave up.”

When Nathan Faudree took the stage to receive his Supporting Actor award for Glengarry Glen Ross, he planted open-mouth smackeroos on both Searor and Fitzgerald, followed by a recollection of his arrival in Syracuse five years earlier as a “bloated alcoholic in rehab” who bounced back with the help of the local theater community. Faudree’s full-on schmecken approach became an instant running gag, as winner Kathy Egloff lip-locked with presenter Simon Moody, then Baldwinsville Theatre Guild’s Sandy Baker demonstrated who really keeps the home fires burning with her amorous attack on her longtime hubby, Mark. Maybe next year’s SALT shindig will include a kissing booth.

Like previous SALT ceremonies, there were also moments of poignancy. Justin Polly, whose name rang out several times throughout the evening, frequently thanked his soon-to-be bride, Kasey Mchale, and also saluted the memory of his late brother Christian. Hall of Fame winner Susan Blumer, who was unable to attend, received near-tearful tributes from both Covey co-founder Heater (who affectionately called her “The General”) and her daughter Amy Blumer. And during the Lifetime Achievement honor for the late Earl Colvin, the local gay rights activist as well as founder of Theater A La Carte, the evening’s stage manager, Patricia Catchouny, delivered an eloquent summation: “He was irascible. He was cranky. He was funny. He was Earl.”

To view the 2015 SALT Awards photo gallery, click here.

Professional Theater Companies

Musical of the Year

Hairspray (Syracuse Stage)

Other nominees: Carousel (Redhouse Arts Center); A Man of No Importance (Redhouse Arts Center); 1776 (Cortland Repertory Theatre); Sweeney Todd (Merry-Go-Round Playhouse)

Leading Actress in a Musical

Mary DiGangi, Hairspray (Syracuse Stage)

Other nominees: Caitlin Oenbrink, Carousel (Redhouse Arts Center); Aubry Ludington Panek, A Man of No Importance (Redhouse Arts Center); Caitlyn Diana Doyle, 1776 (Cortland Repertory Theatre); Christianne Tisdale, Sweeney Todd (Merry-Go Round Playhouse)

Leading Actor in a Musical

David Lowenstein, Hairspray (Syracuse Stage)

Other nominees: Greg Horton, 1776 (Cortland Repertory Theatre); Jimmy Johansmeyer, The Addams Family (Cortland Repertory Theatre); David Kaverman, Carousel (Redhouse Arts Center); Michael Pine, A Man of No Importance (Redhouse Arts Center)

Director of the Year, Musical

Bill Fennelly, Hairspray (Syracuse Stage)

Other nominees: Brett Bernardi, The Addams Family (Cortland Repertory Theatre); Igor Goldin, Sweeney Todd (Merry-Go-Round Playhouse); Stephen Svoboda, A Man of No Importance (Redhouse Arts Center); Kerby Thompson, 1776 (Cortland Repertory Theatre)

Play of the Year

In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play (Syracuse Stage)

Other nominees: Always a Bridesmaid (Cortland Repertory Theatre); Broadway Bound (Redhouse Arts Center); Miracle on South Division Street (Cortland Repertory Theatre); Other Desert Cities (Syracuse Stage)

Director of the Year, Play

Stephen Svoboda, Broadway Bound (Redhouse Arts Center)

Other nominees: May Adrales, In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play (Syracuse Stage); Timothy Bond, Other Desert Cities (Syracuse Stage); John Kani, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead (Syracuse Stage); Shaun Peknic, Sherlock Holmes and the West End Horror (Cortland Repertory Theatre)

Leading Actress of the Year

Laura Austin, Broadway Bound (Redhouse Arts Center)

Other nominees: D’Arcy Dersham, Other Desert Cities (Syracuse Stage); Erika LaVonn, The Piano Lesson (Syracuse Stage); Dori Legg, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Syracuse Stage); Marianna McClellan, In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play (Syracuse Stage)

Leading Actor of the Year

Anthony Malchar, Broadway Bound (Redhouse Arts Center)

Other nominees: Joel Reuben Ganz, Other Desert Cities (Syracuse Stage); Atandwa Kani, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead (Syracuse Stage), Christopher Kelly, In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play (Syracuse Stage); Larry Paulsen, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Syracuse Stage)

Costumer of the Year, Musical

Wendi R. Zea, 1776 (Cortland Repertory Theatre)

Other nominees: Nikki Delhomme, Carousel (Redhouse Arts Center); Nikki Delhomme, A Man of No Importance (Redhouse Arts Center); Jimmy Johansmeyer, The Addams Family (Cortland Repertory Theatre); Aaron Mastin, Hairspray (Syracuse Stage)

Costumer of the Year, Play

Jimmy Johansmeyer, Always a Bridesmaid (Cortland Repertory Theatre)

Other nominees: Sarah Cubbage, In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play (Syracuse Stage); Nikki Delhomme, Broadway Bound (Redhouse Arts Center); Helen Q Huang, The Piano Lesson (Syracuse Stage); Caitlin Ward, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Syracuse Stage)

Choreographer of the Year

David Wanstreet, Hairspray (Syracuse Stage)

Other nominees: Cynthia Halpin, 1776 (Cortland Repertory Theatre); Stephanie Dattellas, Carousel (Redhouse Arts Center); Erin Lafferty, A Man of No Importance (Redhouse Arts Center); Robin Levine, The Addams Family (Cortland Repertory Theatre)

Lighting Designer of the Year, Musical

David A. Sexton, The Addams Family (Cortland Repertory Theatre)

Other nominees: Alan Edwards, Carousel (Redhouse Arts Center); David A. Sexton, 1776 (Cortland Repertory Theatre); Thom Weaver, Hairspray (Syracuse Stage); Marie Yokoyama, A Man of No Importance (Redhouse Arts Center)

Lighting Designer of the Year, Play

Tie: Dawn Chiang, Other Desert Cities (Syracuse Stage), and Geoff Korf, The Piano Lesson (Syracuse Stage)

Other nominees: Chuan-Chi Chan, Broadway Bound (Redhouse Arts Center); Seth Reiser, In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play (Syracuse Stage); Karin Olson, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Syracuse Stage)

Sound Designer of the Year, Musical

Jonathan Herter, Hairspray (Syracuse Stage)

Other nominees: Seth Asa Sengel, The Addams Family (Cortland Repertory Theatre); Seth Asa Sengel, 1776 (Cortland Repertory Theatre); Anthony Vadala, Carousel (Redhouse Arts Center); Anthony Vadala, A Man of No Importance (Redhouse Arts Center)

Sound Designer of the Year, Play

Anthony Vadala, Broadway Bound (Redhouse Arts Center)

Other nominees: Montana Johnson, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Syracuse Stage); Casi Pacilio, Other Desert Cities (Syracuse Stage); Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes, In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play (Syracuse Stage); Seth Asa Sengel, Miracle on South Division Street (Cortland Repertory Theatre)

Set Designer of the Year, Play

William Bloodgood, Other Desert Cities (Syracuse Stage)

Other nominees: John Arnone, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Syracuse Stage); Tim Brown, Broadway Bound (Redhouse Arts Center); Ola Kraszpulska, Always a Bridesmaid (Cortland Repertory Theatre); Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play (Syracuse Stage)

Non-Performing Person of the Year

Patrick Burns, Carousel (Redhouse Arts Center)

Other nominees: Patrick Burns, A Man of No Importance (Redhouse Arts Center); Erin Lundsford, Hairspray (Syracuse Stage); Jose Simbulan, West Side Story (Merry-Go-Round Playhouse); Jeff Theiss, Sweeney Todd (Merry-Go-Round Playhouse)

Non-Professional Theater Companies

Play of the Year

The Laramie Project (Central New York Playhouse)

Other nominees: Glengarry Glen Ross (Central New York Playhouse); Lend Me a Tenor (Central New York Playhouse); Lincoln’s Blood (Covey Theatre Company); White Liars and Black Comedy (Central New York Playhouse)

Leading Actress in a Play

Nora O’Dea, Doubt (Salt City Center for the Performing Arts)

Other nominees: Katie DeFerio, Lend Me a Tenor (Central New York Playhouse); Marguerite Mitchell, Romeo and Juliet (Central New York Playhouse); Heather Roach, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Central New York Playhouse); Natalie Wilson, White Liars and Black Comedy (Central New York Playhouse)

Supporting Actress in a Play

Aubry Ludington Panek, God of Carnage (Covey Theatre Company)

Other nominees: Lynn King, Doubt (Salt City Center for the Performing Arts); Kate Kisselstein, White Liars and Black Comedy (Central New York Playhouse); Marcia Mele, Lend Me a Tenor (Central New York Playhouse); Betsy York, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Appleseed Productions)

Leading Actor in a Play

Justin Polly, RFK (Appleseed Productions)

Other nominees: Edward Mastin, God’s Favorite (Central New York Playhouse); Darian Sundberg, Lincoln’s Blood (Covey Theatre Company); Vincent Randazzo, Lend Me a Tenor (Central New York Playhouse); Dan Rowlands, White Liars and Black Comedy (Central New York Playhouse)

Supporting Actor in a Play

Nathan Faudree, Glengarry Glen Ross (Central New York Playhouse)

Other nominees: Lanny Freshman, God’s Favorite (Central New York Playhouse); Ryan Santiago, Lincoln’s Blood (Covey Theatre Company); Zach Siracuse, Lend Me a Tenor (Central New York Playhouse); Alan Stillman, White Liars and Black Comedy (Central New York Playhouse)

Director of the Year, Play

Justin Polly, The Laramie Project (Central New York Playhouse)

Other nominees: Dustin Czarny, Lend Me a Tenor (Central New York Playhouse); Garrett Heater, Lincoln’s Blood (Covey Theatre Company); Justin Polly and Chris Best, White Liars and Black Comedy (Central New York Playhouse); Roy van Norstrand, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Central New York Playhouse)

Musical of the Year

Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Other nominees: Aida (Central New York Playhouse); Fiddler on the Roof (Salt City Center for the Performing Arts); Hair (Covey Theatre Company); Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild).

Leading Actress in a Musical

Kristina Marie Clark, Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Other nominees: Cathy Butler, Aida (Central New York Playhouse); Leila Dean, Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild); Carol Ditch, Fiddler on the Roof (Salt City Center for the Performing Arts); Riley Mahan, Hair (Covey Theatre Company)

Supporting Actress in a Musical

Kathy Egloff, Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Other nominees: Kate Crawford, Fiddler on the Roof (Salt City Center for the Performing Arts); Mary Musial, Hair (Covey Theatre Company); Jennifer Pearson, Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild); Erin Williamson, Aida (Central New York Playhouse);

Leading Actor in a Musical

Henry Wilson, Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Other nominees: Bob Brown, Fiddler on the Roof (Salt City Center for the Performing Arts); C.J. Roche, Hair (Covey Theatre Company); Henry Wilson, Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild); Chip Weber, Aida (Central New York Playhouse)

Supporting Actor in a Musical

Josh Taylor, Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Other nominees: Liam Fitzpatrick, Evil Dead (Central New York Playhouse); Derek Potocki, Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild); Ben Sills, Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild); Chris Wiacek, Hair (Covey Theatre Company)

Director of the Year, Musical

Garrett Heater, Hair (Covey Theatre Company)

Other nominees: Heather Jensen, Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild); Cathleen O’Brien, Fiddler on the Roof (Salt City Center for the Performing Arts); Dan Rowlands, Evil Dead (Central New York Playhouse); Korrie Taylor, Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Music Director of the Year

Abel Searor, Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Other nominees: Bridget Moriarty, Hair (Covey Theatre Company); Abel Searor, Be Our Guest: Disney Through the Ages (Rarely Done Productions); Abel Searor, Fiddler on the Roof (Salt City Center for the Performing Arts); Dan Williams, Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Costumer of the Year

Jodi Wilson, Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Other nominees: Sara Barden and Crystal Rowlands, Evil Dead (Central New York Playhouse); Stephanie Long, Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild); Rhiannon Randall and Donnie Williams, Aida (Central New York Playhouse); Barbara Toman, Clybourne Park (Central New York Playhouse)

Choreographer of the Year

Jodi Bova-Mele, Hair (Covey Theatre Company)

Other nominees: Stephfond Brunson, Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild); Jimmy Curtin, Be Our Guest: Disney Through the Ages (Rarely Done Productions); Korrie Taylor, Evil Dead (Central New York Playhouse); Korrie Taylor, Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Lighting Designer of the Year

Sam Barbuto, Kevin Barbuto and Korrie Taylor, Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Other nominees: Marguerite Beebe, Evil Dead (Central New York Playhouse); Steve LaPorte, Hair (Covey Theatre Company); Cindy Shippers, Fiddler on the Roof (Salt City Center for the Performing Arts); Korrie Taylor, Sam Barbuto and Kevin Barbuto, Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Sound Designer of the Year

Anthony Vadala, Hair (Covey Theatre Company)

Other nominees: Rachel Briscoe, Dan Randall and Rob Searle, Aida (Central New York Playhouse); Lisa Harshberger and Bill White, Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild); Mark Palinkas and Josh Wright, Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild); Dan Rowlands, Evil Dead (Central New York Playhouse)

Set Designer of the Year 

Josh Taylor, Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Other nominees: Gregg Bilyeu, Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild); Karel Blakeley, Clybourne Park (Central New York Playhouse); Navroz Dabu, Evil Dead (Central New York Playhouse); Liam Fitzpatrick and Dustin Czarny, Aida (Central New York Playhouse)

Non-Performing Person of the Year

Josh Taylor, Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild)

Other nominees: Jay Burris, Young Frankenstein (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild); Michelle Luzzi, Jekyll & Hyde (Baldwinsville Theatre Guild); Morgan O’Donnell Curry, Aida (Central New York Playhouse); Em Piraino, Clybourne Park (Central New York Playhouse)

MVP Award

Amelia Beamish, Hair (Covey Theatre Company)

Hall of Fame Award

Susan Blumer (Covey Theatre Company)

Lifetime Achievement Award

Earl Colvin

To view the 2015 SALT Awards photo gallery, click here.

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