A low-budget African-American theater company in Miami was the big winner at the 42nd annual Carbonell Awards ceremony Monday night at the Broward Center. Although M Ensemble has been producing plays for 47 years, it had barely been recognized by the South Florida awards for theater excellence until that night.
Its mounting of Kings of Harlem, about the struggles of a black basketball team, was named the best production of a play in 2017, as well as best director (Layon Gray), best supporting actor (Andre L. Gainey) and best ensemble – the most wins of any show.
Emphasizing this year’s topsy-turvy results was the fact that two perennial award recipients – GableStage and Actors; Playhouse, both of Coral Gables – were completely shut out on Monday. Still, Miami-Dade county theaters were the most victorious, grabbing 11 Carbonells, outpacing Broward’s five and Palm Beach’s four.
In awards totals by company, the big winner was Miami’s Zoetic Stage with six – Sunday in the Park with George (three), The Caretaker (two) and Fuacata! (one). In the musical categories, it was a nail-biter between two Stephen Sondheim shows. Zoetic’s production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning show about pointillist painter Georges Seurat copped awards for best musical, costume design (Angelina Esposito) and musical direction (Eric Alsford). It bested Palm Beach Dramaworks’ Sweeney Todd, which earned two Carbonells – best director of a musical (Clive Cholerton) and best actor, musical (Shane Tanner).
That gave Dramaworks the edge among Palm Beach County theater companies,
topping another traditional awards winner – Maltz Jupiter Theatre – which logged a single Carbonell on Monday for best choreography (Al Blackstone, Newsies), and The Wick for best supporting actress, musical (Mallory Newbrough, Beehive) for her thunderous impression of Janis Joplin. MNM Productions, West Boca Theatre Company and FAU Theatre Lab went home empty-handed.
Other awards highlights included best actress in a play, which went to Niki Fridh for the one-woman show Grounded, the first Carbonell win ever for Thinking Cap Theatre. Zoetig Stage artistic director Stuart Meltzer won his first award as a playwright (best new work, The Goldberg Variations, Island City Stage), in a category often dominated by his husband, Michael McKeever. Meltzer’s production of The Caretaker gained two Carbonells for Michael McClain (best scenic design) and David Kwiat (best actor, play), a longtime New World School of the Arts instructor who announced that he will be retiring this spring.
Two wins for Broward Stage Door’s Dreamgirls – best actress, musical (Sarah Gracel) and best supporting actor, musical (Elijah Word) – were enthusiastically received by the audience in the Amaturo Theater. The same could be said for veteran performer Carolyn Johnson, named best supporting actress in a play (Flyin’ West, M Ensemble).
Of the evening’s many standing ovations, the most enthusiastic was for a group of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who performed an original song of hope, “Shine.” Other entertainment segments included laser-lunged Laura Hodos in her tongue-in-cheek anthem from The Drowsy Chaperone and a power duet by Cooper Grodin and Kimberly Doreen Burns from Sunday in the Park. The best play category, which usually takes a back seat at the awards ceremony, was highlighted with video descriptions by their nominated directors.
Previously announced special award recipients included: George Abbott Award (Gail Garrisan) Charlie Cinnamon Award (Tony Finstrom), Howard Kleinberg Award (Deborah Margol) and Ruth Foreman Award (Jan McArt).