Performing Arts

Newer South Florida theater companies win big at 38th annual Carbonell Awards

The work of artists at three of South Florida’s newer theater companies was celebrated on Monday when the 38th annual Carbonell Awards were presented in a glamorous, music-filled ceremony at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. For the first time in a long time, locally-based talent took home nearly every award, to the noisy delight of their fellow actors, directors and designers.

The region’s major theater awards, recognizing work done in 2013, are named for the late Manuel Carbonell, who designed the egg-shaped bronze sculpture given to winners.

Not yet 2 years old, Fort Lauderdale’s small Island City Stage bested all of the region’s older, bigger companies by winning a half-dozen Carbonells for its production of Dan Clancy’s The Timekeepers, the most awards for a single production. Presented at Empire Stage, the three-character drama about two concentration camp prisoners and their brutal guard won awards for best production of a play, director Michael Leeds, actor Michael McKeever, set designer Michael McClain, lighting designer Preston Bircher and sound designer David Hart.

Embracing GableStage’s Joseph Adler, a frequent Carbonell winner, as he went to the stage to accept his award, Leeds quipped, “Joe, I love you. But it’s more fun to watch you from up here than down there.”

Miami’s 3-year-old Zoetic Stage also won big in the play category, capturing the best new work award for Christopher Demos-Brown’s searing play Fear Up Harsh and winning Karen Stephens best actress honors for her performance as a damaged soldier. First nominated 20 years ago, then nominated several times since, the ecstatic Stephens finally became a Carbonell winner on Monday.

Zoetic’s production of Zach Braff’s All New People yielded two awards, with the best-ensemble Carbonell recognizing Amy McKenna, Nicholas Richberg, and newlyweds Todd Allen Durkin and Betsy Graver, who were married the day before the ceremony. Durkin also won the best supporting actor Carbonell for his performance and observed in his acceptance speech, “What a weekend!” One of the actors who lost in the supporting category was Stephen G. Anthony, who officiated at Durkin and Graver’s nuptials.

Slow Burn Theatre, the 4-year-old company that presents its musicals in west Boca Raton (and sometimes in Aventura), led all theaters going into the awards with 10 nominations for its production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal. Only company co-founder Patrick Fitzwater went home with a Carbonell, but it was a major one as best director of a musical, an honor that brought him to tears.

This year, the musical category was dominated by Actors’ Playhouse of Coral Gables. Its production of the Latino-flavored Broadway hit In the Heights took the Carbonells for best musical, best actor Nick Duckart and best musical director Emmanuel Schvartzman. The company’s Ruthless! brought two more awards, for best actress Amy Miller Brennan and best supporting actor Gabriel Zenone, who won for his drag role as a child star’s manipulative agent.

A newcomer to South Florida’s theater community, Zenone confided that he hadn’t been sure making his local debut playing a woman was the right move: “I thought, ‘Really? My first show? In a dress?’.”

Choreographer Denis Jones won for his work on the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s Thoroughly Modern Millie. His was the only award won by the Maltz, which swept the musical category last year and led all theaters this year with 19 nominations.

Shows at Palm Beach Dramaworks claimed two awards, best supporting actress in a play to Angie Radosh for Exit the King (her third consecutive Carbonell in a supporting category) and best costume design to Brian O’Keefe for The Lion in Winter. The clearly moved Radosh commented, “This is for best supporting actress, but I was also the best supported actress.”

Lourelene Snedeker was named best supporting actress in a musical for her portrayal of the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music, the inaugural production at Boca Raton’s Wick Theatre. Near the end of the awards show, Snedeker reminded the crowd why she won by singing an exultant, inspiring Climb Ev’ry Mountain backed by her “nun” cast mates dolled up in chic evening gowns instead of habits.

By the numbers, the Carbonells were more evenly distributed geographically this year. Theaters in Miami-Dade won nine awards, Broward County six and Palm Beach County five. Notably shut out of the competitive awards was GableStage, a perennial winner.

The Carbonells also recognize the work of varied artists with special awards. The winner of this year’s George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts was Patrick Dupré Quigley, founder and artistic director of Miami’s celebrated vocal ensemble Seraphic Fire. The Ruth Foreman Award was given to GableStage, Miami playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, the Royal Shakespeare Company and New York’s Public Theater for their collaborative production of the McCraney-adapted Antony and Cleopatra. The Bill Hindman Award was given posthumously to actor Don McArt, whose actress-producer sister Jan McArt accepted on his behalf.

The late Theatre League founder and director Barry J.W. Steinman, actor Jerry Gulledge and Broward Stage Door co-founder David Torres, whose death the day before the Carbonell ceremony was a still-raw wound to many in the crowd, were also remembered during the evening.

Carbonell scholarships of $1,000 each were presented to Gabrielle Perez of Miami’s Coral Reef High School, Taryn Noble of Davie’s Western High School and Eliana Meyerowitz of Boca Raton Community High School.

Produced by best actor winner McKeever and directed by Zoetic artistic director Stuart Meltzer, the show mixed award presentations and numbers from the six best musical nominees. Broadway veteran and nominee Burke Moses, who sang the ever-faster The Speed Test from the Maltz’s Thoroughly Modern Millie, returned to South Florida to perform his number. But otherwise, local talent most often claimed the spotlight — and the awards.