Jeff Norton Awards: Rightful praise, right stuff 

The local theater community gathered to honor outstanding talent.

On Aug. 20, Theatre Tampa Bay — the newly dubbed alliance of the region's professional theaters — celebrated excellence in theatrical performance and production with style and cheeky humor (and perhaps an overabundance of RNC jokes). Directors, actors, techs and patrons dressed up and purchased tickets, venturing out on a work night to the historic Palladium Theater to honor peers and faves.

Doesn't seem like much to ask, but when if you consider the challenges that have beset this event, the doggedly determined theater professionals who attended, showed their support and made it all happen deserve admiration.

One area of controversy was that the event only honored “bests” for two participating theaters — American Stage and Stageworks — and “special recognition” awards from Hat Trick, freeFall, Jobsite, the Silver Meteor and Gorilla. The “bests” were the product of audience voting (ballots were included in programs), weighted so that the bigger audiences wouldn't inevitably determine the winners. The Critics’ Choice Award for best play and best musical were decided by CL theater critic Mark E. Leib and Kathy Greenberg of The Tampa Tribune (Tampa Bay Times performing arts critic John Fleming was out having hip surgery).

It seemed to be generally understood that the Jeff Norton Awards is in its growing stages, an "interim" phase, as Bridget Bean describes it, and Theatre Tampa Bay is striving to address feedback and make the event one that makes sense and pleases the majority of the theater community, if not all (impossible, especially if you consider the our theater scene).

Along with the warm fuzzies, touching tears and moments of recognition, entertainment highlighted the night. There were stellar performances by David Mann of Cabaret, which won Critics' Choice for Outstanding Musical. Heather Krueger performed the title number from Listen to My Heart, a David Friedman musical performed earlier this year at Stageworks, and Melissa Misener performed as Mrs. Lovett, a performance in the upcoming St. Petersburg Opera production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. These performances should have been promoted more as they illustrate the caliber of talent in the Bay area theaters. They alone out-valued the cost of admission.

The ceremony, thankfully, wasn't overly long and began with a slideshow, offering a comprehensive look at the professional theater productions throughout Tampa Bay, even if they all weren't up for awards that night.

Emcee and Jeff Norton Award-winner Matt McGee was a sassulous entertainer, cracking jokes, sashaying diva-like and gesticulating wildly. Among his riffs was a hilariously politically incorrect comparison to the U.S.'s Mormon presidential hopeful and our racially stigmatized president — "Alien vs. Predator."

See asterisk (*) next winners for each category:

AMERICAN STAGE NOMINATIONS

Outstanding Director
*Matt Chiorini for The Foreigner
Todd Olson for August: Osage County/ An Ideal Husband/2.5 Minute Ride
Bob Devin Jones for Seven Guitars
Karla Hartley for Rocky Horror Show
T. Scott Wooten for A Steady Rain

Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role
* Chris Crawford for The Foreigner
Richard B. Watson for An Ideal Husband
Lewis D. Wheeler for An Ideal Husband
Ronn Bobb-Semple for Seven Guitars
Joshua Elijah Reese for Seven Guitars

Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role
*Lisa McMillan for August: Osage County
Lisa Kay Powers for 2.5 Minute Ride
Julie Rowe for August: Osage County
Amanda Collins for An Ideal Husband
Magdalyn Donnely for An Ideal Husband

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Leading Role
Michael Edwards for August: Osage County
* Greyson Lewis for The Foreigner
Matt Lunsford for The Foreigner
Kim Sullivan for Seven Guitars
Dan Matisa for The Foreigner

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
* Elizabeth Dimon in The Foreigner
Natalie Symons in The Foreigner
Sarah McAvoy in August: Osage County
Tia Jemison in Seven Guitars
Tia Jemison in August: Osage County

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
* Matt McGee in Rocky Horror Show
Victor Chan in Rocky Horror Show
Joel Gennari in Rocky Horror Show
Jose Urbino in Rocky Horror Show
Jim Sorensen in Rocky Horror Show
Steven Flaa in Rocky Horror Show

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
* Lauren L. Wood for Vanishing Point
Alison Burns in Rocky Horror Show
Kathleen Brooke Davis for Vanishing Point
Lulu Picart in Rocky Horror Show
Ericka Womack-Brown in Rocky Horror Show

Outstanding Lighting Design
* Joseph P. Oshry for ROCKY HORROR/Seven Guitars/August: Osage County
Phillip Franck for 2.5 Minute Ride & A Steady Rain
Michael Newton-Brown for The Foreigner
John R. Malinowski for An Ideal Husband

Outstanding Scenic Design
* Scott Cooper for August: Osage County
Tom Hansen for The Foreigner
Frank Chavez for Seven Guitars
Jiyoun Chang for An Ideal Husband
Jerid Fox for 2.5 Minute Ride/A Steady Rain

Outstanding Sound Design
Todd Olson for August: Osage County & 2.5 Minute Ride
* T. Scott Wooten for A Steady Rain/Seven Guitars/The Foreigner
Andrew Hopson for An Ideal Husband

Outstanding Costume Design
Mike and Kathy Buck for August: Osage County
* Trish Kelley for The Foreigner & Rocky Horror Show
Saideh Ben Judah for Seven Guitars
Ty Christine Massola for 2.5 Minute Ride
Adrin Erra Puente for A Steady Rain & Vanishing Point

STAGEWORKS

Outstanding Director
Anna Brennen for Gruesome Playground Injuries, To Kill a Mockingbird
Karla Hartley for Biloxi Blues, Blue Room, Listen to My Heart, Sylvia
* Lisa Powers for 'Night, Mother

Outstanding Actor in a Play
* Ricky Cona for Biloxi Blues
David Friedman for Listen to My Heart
Erik Lurz for Gruesome Playground Injuries
Jim Sorensen for The Blue Room
Jim Wicker for To Kill a Mockingbird

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Allison Burns for The Blue Room
* Kari Goetz for Sylvia
Karla Hartley for 'Night, Mother
Betty Jane Parks for Gruesome Playground Injuries
Kristen Powell for To Kill a Mockingbird

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Ricky Cona for Sylvia
Mike McGreevy for Biloxi Blues
Harold Oehler for Sylvia
Craig Sculli for Listen to My Heart
* Vince Stalba for Biloxi Blues

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Allison Burns for Listen to My Heart
Katie Castonguay for Biloxi Blues
Heather Krueger for Biloxi Blues
* Monica Merryman for 'Night, Mother
Lulu Picart for Listen to My Heart

Outstanding Scenic Design
John Paul Boukis for Listen to My Heart
Frank Chavez for To Kill a Mockingbird, Biloxi Blues, Sylvia
* Scott Cooper for 'Night, Mother
R.T. Williams for Gruesome Playground Injuries

Outstanding Costume Design
Mike and Kathy Buck for Listen to My Heart
* Frank Chavez for Sylvia
Adrian Puente for 'Night, Mother

Stageworks Spirit Awards: Judy Giocondo, Bernice Jensen
Jobsite Theater Special Recognition Award: Roz Potenza
freeFall Unsung Hero Award: Bill Ward
Hat Trick Theatre Special Recognition Award: Joe Winskye
Gorilla Theatre Special Award for Outstanding Leadership: Sandra Lynne Locher.

For more, see the slideshow at the upper right of this page.

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