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Dr.  Judy Kuriansky
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Dr. Judy Kuriansky:


Theatre World Awards
 
Dr. Judy Kuriansky
Dr. Judy Kuriansky
 

Newtimer Theatre World Awardees  

First-timers on the Broadway or off-Broadway stage are lauded and awarded at the annual Theatre World Awards Ceremony by former award winners, who, charmingly, are often the debut performers’ hero and inspiration. The star-studded event took place this June 5th at New York City’s Circle in the Square, attended by invited members (family) of the theatre community. The event is held at the end of the theater season; thus, coincides with the TONY awards. So, it is no surprise that several Theatre World awardees and presenters were also front and center as TONY award nominees at that celebration a week later on June 11. A big difference: the TONY winners are a surprise and the Theatre World awardees know their nod beforehand.    

 At the Theatre World awards, a dozen thespians gushed about fulfilling their dream to be on the storied stage -- a major accomplishment given how tough it is to “make it” in show business with such competition and rejection.

 The night’s entertainment was thrilling. The audience stood, applauding, when Julie Benko -- currently starring as Fanny Brice in Broadway’s Funny Girl – accepted the “Dorothy Loudon Award for Excellence” and belted out a song while swirling dramatically on the red-carpeted stage platform. Benko charmingly effused over her two-year anniversary with her beloved husband Jason who she said “knew I could do it even when I didn’t” and “followed her even to Amarillo”. She also coyly admitted she used the remainder of her Bloomingdales wedding gift money to buy the dress she was wearing.

 

Julie Benko

Julie Benko

 
Benjamin Pajak
Benjamin Pajak
 
"Where is Love?”  It was clearly in the air when 12-year old Benjamin Pajak “stole the show” with his adorable delivery of that tune. Pajak, who said he has loved musicals all his life, made his Broadway debut in the Music Man for which the cast won the Award the year before for Outstanding Ensemble. He also recently wowed in the title role in the two-week run at City Center of the musical revival of Oliver! about the classic abused orphan Oliver Twist.
 
Audra McDonald presents award to Brian Stokes Mitchell,
Audra McDonald presents award to Brian Stokes Mitchell
 

Another crowd-pleaser of the night was 40-year theatre veteran Brian Stokes Mitchell, dubbed the “last leading man” by the NY Times, (whom we learned was also a pilot and philanthropist) who accepted the John Willis Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre Award. Mitchell thanked his wife and quoted self-improvement guru Dr. Dwayne Dyer (with whom I’m familiar): “Don't die with music still in your head.” He also added his own advice, eliciting audience cheers: “Go out and tell your story. Make them hear you loud and wide.”

 Audra McDonald, who presented to award to Mitchell, got a standing ovation. McDonald had formerly won for Carousel in 1994. The six-time TONY award-winner was nominated for a TONY again this year, as leading actress for her role in Ohio State Murders, but lost that prize to Jodie Comer for her solo 90-minute performance in Prima Facie, about a London lawyer expert in assault cases who ironically finds herself a survivor, being raped herself.

 Comer won the Theatre World award for her mastery in that same role.  In her acceptance speech, she shared her awakening of the impact of her role as a sexually assaulted woman from an appreciative letter from a real-life suffering woman. In accepting the TONY the next week for her performance, Comer exclaimed, “This play has been my greatest teacher,” adding wistfully that the run only has three more weeks.

 
Noma Dumazweni who won for portraying Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in 2018, presents the award to Jodie Comer

Noma Dumazweni who won for portraying Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in 2018, presents the award to Jodie Comer

 

Keeping up the theme of women’s empowerment, a Theatre World Award went to new-comer Emma Pritzer Price for her portrayal of a 1930s young woman claiming her independence in Becomes a Woman. And who could be more inspiring about female empowerment than the presenter, Katy Sullivan, who is a four-time Paralympic champion athlete who was born missing both lower legs, and became the first amputee to be a TONY nominee -- for “Best Featured Actress in a Play” for her acting in the Pulitzer-Prize winning play “Cost of Living” about disabled and abled persons. The TONY went to Miriam Silverman in
The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window.

 
Katy Sullivan presenting to Emma Pritzer Price
Katy Sullivan presenting to Emma Pritzer Price
 
Priscilla Lopez presents the award to Marilyn Caserta

Priscilla Lopez presents the award to Marilyn Caserta

 

More female awakening in roles was celebrated in the award for Outstanding Swing Actor going to Marilyn Caserta starring in SIX  (which I want to see) who said, “My younger self would be proud of the woman she’s become.” That line is a psychologists’ dream.

 In presenting the award to Caserta, Priscilla Lopez who won for A Chorus Line in 1976, recalled humorously that when famous director Michael Bennett invited her to be a “swing” she didn’t know what the word meant (the innuendo elicited an audience giggle). A Swing is a performer ready to stand-in for any role.

 An equally attractive pop-psychology quote, with deeper psychological meaning, was Callum Francis’ (Kinky Boots) line:
 “You change your world when you change your mind.”

 
Winner Callum Francis awarded by Paulo Szot

Winner Callum Francis awarded by Paulo Szot
 (South Pacific, 2000) now in &Juliet

 
D’Arcy Carden receiving the ward rom Ruthie Ann Miles

D’Arcy Carden receiving the ward rom Ruthie Ann Miles

 

Another tribute to a spouse for unending support (as did Benko) was given by D’Arcy Carden accepting the award for her work in The Thanksgiving Play, thanking her husband for whom she said she gives handclaps and touches her heart before every curtain goes up. Carden’s presenter, Ruthie Ann Miles now plays in Sweeney Todd on Broadway. She played Imelda Marcos in the 2013 production of Here Lies Love, about to open on Broadway about the infamous former Filipina First Lady, with the concept and music  from the iconic and innovative David Byrne.

 On a serious note, I was delighted to see Amir Arison accept a Theatre World Award for his role in The Kite Runner, a heart-wrenching story about what happens to two young boys growing up Afghanistan, during the 1970s, 1996 Russian war, and Taliban takeover. I had to see the play, given my connection to a dear Afghani friend, Dr. Wais Aria, who escaped from Kabul with his family on the very last day, August 28, of the controversial American withdrawal. My friend’s perilous journey mirrors the drama of the play, as he was beaten in front of his kids at the airport trying to get on the plane, and his subsequent needs when returning to the United States.  The story, including my buying his young son a cherished piano (which of course he could only play in secret in the Taliban-run country) was covered by the Washington Post.

 
Arian Moayed (winner for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, 2011)

Arian Moayed (winner for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, 2011)
 presents award to Amir Arison

 

The intensity of playing the character led Amir to bemoan that “my soul is tired” – beyond emotional and physical exhaustion from hours on stage – but his subsequent realization that there is no time for self-pity when “That’s how every Afghan feels every day.”

 As a lead character in the SHUCKED musical comedy about, of course, corn, Caroline Innerbichlee  admitted that as an actor she needs a script even for a “thank you” but amusedly thanked her
“community of weirdos” in the play.

 
Caroline Innerrbichler

Caroline Innerrbichler

 

Also getting a nod was co-actor dynamo Ashley D. Kelley. Before presenting her award, Myles Frost -- who dizzied with energy in
 MJ the Musical – announced “I’m hungry,” eliciting audience laughter.

 
Myles Frost awarding Ashley D. Kelley

Myles Frost awarding Ashley D. Kelley

 
Jeremy Jordan (winner for Bonnie and Clyde, 2012) presents award

Jeremy Jordan (winner for Bonnie and Clyde, 2012) presents award
 to Casey Likes

 

Of interest, award winner Casey Likes, honored for his role in Almost Famous, is about to play KISS infamous bassist ROCKER Gene Simmons in a screen biopic. That reminds me that Simmons once stuck his famous tongue down my throat (much to many fans’ envy) at a Z100 radio event (that’s posted in the internet), We learned that Casey likes sailing and soccer.

 
Hiran Abysekera

Hiran Abysekera

 
The background of Hiran Abysekera, wearing traditional garb when accepting for his lead in Life of Pi, captured my attention because he was born in Sri Lanka -- where I did resilience training for children after the devastating tsunami in 2004. Abysekera turned to pursuing his passion for the theatre at 18 years old, after losing his friend in that tsunami, from initially studying to become a doctor, when he realized that "Life can end at any second."
 

Theatre World Awards’ President Dale Badway host Peter Filichia

 

Outstanding on stage in a pink suit, Theatre world President
 Dale Badway expressed gratefulness for the “magical’ place of the theatre and made an impassioned plea for funding.

 Host of the night Peter Filichia delivered charming and entertaining intros throughout. He bemoaned that “You don’t hear the term matinee idol anymore” and remarked that “non-traditional casting is becoming traditional.” Filichia clearly knows his stuff, being the theater critic emeritus for the Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey, former President of the Drama Desk, musical theater judge for the ASCAP Awards program, columnist for www.masterworksbroadway.com, and author of several books, Let's Put on a Musical: How to Choose the Right Show for Your School, Community or Professional Theater (Back Stage 2007) and Strippers, Showgirls and Sharks: A Very Opinionated Look at the Musicals that Lost the Best Musical Tony (St. Martin’s Press, 2013). He’s also on the panel of reviewers on the podcast This Week on Broadway on BroadwayRadio.com. Beyond that, he’s an avid baseball fan! I know Peter for years; being that he started his career writing books for teenagers, we once talked about writing a book about the “Lois Lane syndrome” – women who pursue men who can’t commit - which some unfortunately still do.

 The awards were co-founded by John Willis (1916-2010), former Editor-in-Chief of Theatre World, noted theatre archivist for 66 years who encouraged new talent. The earliest awards, from 1945, went to Judy Holliday, Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster and Carol Channing. Later awardees at the beginning of their careers who became big names include Patti LuPone, Chita Rivera, Glenn Close, Nathan Lane, Hugh Jackman, André de Shields, Harvey Fierstein, and Bernadette Peters. Willis’ first self-named award recipient in 2012 was Alan Alda. See:
www.theatreworldawards.org.

 Family drama is compelling. The winner I was waiting for didn’t show because he was in LA (couldn’t they zoom him in, or give it in abstentia?) was John David Washington for his brilliant energetic role in The Piano Lesson, in which I invested and touted from the hilltops. It’s about a brother-sister heated debate over whether to sell a family heirloom. I wanted the limited run to go on forever; albeit it will soon be made into a film. Samuel L. Jackson, nominated for a TONY for his performance in that play, in the category of Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play, lost to Brandon Uranowitz for Leopoldstadt.

 Another sibling conflict, this time brother to brother, is displayed in the dark drama about two troubled and desperate African-American brothers in Topdog/Underdog (ironically nicknamed Lincoln and Booth). One brother impersonates Lincoln and the other hustles Three-card Monte. In accepting the Theatre World Award, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II told the crowd he “heard his song” in his role. That rings true, given his nomination also for a TONY this year, though he lost to Sean Hayes in Good Night, Oscar. Recounting a metaphor he learned from playing his character, Yahya implored us all to
“Go out on the dance floor and show your moves.”

 
Justin Colley presenting to his idol Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Justin Colley presenting to his idol Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

 

In presenting the award to Yahya, 18-year old Justin Cooley (Kimberly Akimbo) cooed how he looks up to Yahya. Cooley was also nominated for a TONY -- as best featured actor in a musical -- for his role in Kimberly Akimbo, but lost to SHUCKED’s Alex Newell, who made history at this year’s TONYS as one of the first two openly nonbinary performers to win acting prizes, sharing that groundbreaker with J. Harrison Ghee who won best lead actor in the musical Some Like It Hot.

 More family themes were evident in the award winners, which included Lucy Freyer, in the romantic tragi-comedy The Wanderers, who proudly graduated from Julliard during the pandemic. The play depicts religiously disparate Jewish couples—one secular and another Hasidic—who uncover their commonalities.

 
Laura Linney (winner for Sight Unseen, 1992) presents award to Lucy Freyer

Laura Linney (winner for Sight Unseen, 1992) presents award
 to Lucy Freyer

 
Lionel Larner

Lionel Larner

 

“Never appear in theatre with animals or children”
 (who would steal the show),

Dorothy Loudon Foundation Executive Director Lionel Larner, amusingly reminded us. In his almost three-quarter-of-a-century theatrical career, when an agent, Larner’s clients included greats Bette Davis, Lynn Redgrave and Ethel Merman.

 
Dr. Judy, Noma Dumezweni and Jamie de Roy
Dr. Judy, Noma Dumezweni and Jamie de Roy
 

At the afterparty at Hurley’s, theatre producer and 10-time TONY winner Jamie deRoy and I had a lovely chat with Noma Dumezweni, the exotic and energetic Eswatini-born (formerly Swaziland) actress currently in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Dumezweni fearlessly played Nora in London’s A Doll’s House, another play about female awakening. Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 story follows a mother trying to break out of her housewife role and find herself -- which I remember reading in college – which was brought to life on Broadway by the gorgeous Jessica Chastain.

The Theatre World Award judges, like host Filichia, know the business. They include Harry Haun (The Observer) whom I also know and adore for years, David Cote (The Observer), Joe Dziemianowicz (The Joe Show), Frank Scheck (The Hollywood Reporter), Linda Armstrong (The Amsterdam News), Elysa Gardner (The New York Sun), David Finler (The Huffington Post) and Cary Wong (freelance).

 
I give thumbs up to the Awards show
I give thumbs up to the Awards show
 


Bookmark  Dr. Judy's Column on Black Tie International Magazine

https://blacktiemagazine.com/Judy_Kuriansky/Judy_Kuriansky_Main_page.htm


 

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