By Melissa Griegel . . .
The 76th Annual Theatre World Awards returned to a live ceremony this year with an event at Circle in the Square, on the set of American Buffalo. The Theatre World Awards are presented annually in recognition of twelve outstanding performances on Broadway or Off-Broadway for actors making their debuts. In addition, the John Willis Lifetime Achievement Award and the Dorothy Loudon Award for Outstanding Performance were also presented by Actors who have previously won a Theatre World Award.
This year’s show was hosted with great humor by Peter Filichia, and included musical performances by Andrea McArdle and André De Shields. To the delight of the audience, McArdle sang selections from Annie and also Frank Sinatra. The John Willis Award for Lifetime Achievement is named in honor of the man who created and maintained the Theatre World tradition for 66 years. This year’s honoree, Harvey Fierstein, received his award from Theatre World Awards President Dale Badway and actor Matthew Broderick. Broderick and Fierstein both won their debut awards 40 years ago in Torch Song Trilogy. Firestein was proud to be honored once again, on his 70th birthday with this Lifetime Achievement Award. He looked to the young cast of The Music Man and said, “Oooh you children have no idea. You have no idea of what’s ahead of you!”
Rosemary Harris spoke eloquently about receiving her Theatre World Award in 1953, for The Climate of Eden, a show she had completed in 1952 which had already closed when she was honored. Several years ago, she had the honor of presenting her own daughter with the award. She was joined on stage by Lionel Larner to honor Michael Oberholtzer with the 13th Annual Dorothy Loudon Award for Excellence in the Theatre for his work in Take Me Out. Oberholtzer talked about Dorothy Loudon and the importance of recognizing people for their hard work and shared an anecdote from his childhood playing basketball. He wasn’t very good but won for trying hard and hustling.
André De Shields took to the stage amidst much applause. He joked, “It’s a Monday; I don’t usually get applause on Mondays” He continued, “It was my great honor to receive the John Willis Lifetime Achievement Award last season, however, I am far from done.” He presented Sharon D Clarke with her debut award for her performance in Caroline, or Change. Clarke thanked the awards committee saying, “I am humbled, I’m honored, and I’m overjoyed to be receiving this award, an award which honors so many debuts and says: ‘We see you. Welcome!’.”
The Hangmen moved its show time back an hour so Gaby French could be present to receive her award and was overwhelmed being given many accolades. Myles Frost, another honoree, was unfortunately not able to attend because of his starring role in MJ the Musical. Shannon Tyo, also unable to attend, asked actor and playwright Daniel K. Isaac to read her acceptance speech for her work in The Chinese Lady. Her humorous speech had everyone, including Isaac, laughing as she made him promise to not read the speech until he was on stage.
Brandon J. Dirden, who won a TWA for The Piano Lesson, had the honor of presenting fellow Take Me Out castmate Patrick J. Adams with his award. Adams talked about how he almost turned the role of Kippy down due to his recent bout with tremendous stage fright. Playwright Scott Ellis talked him into it, despite the fact that he would have to be nude on stage, saying it has been one of the most transformational moments of his life.
Ben Edelman, who previously won the Dorothy Loudon Award for Admissions, introduced winner Yair Ben-Dor for his performance in Prayer for the French Republic. Edelman had the chance to see Ben-Dor’s show and was impressed by the actor. Ben-Dor greeted the audience with “Shalom!” and referring to the thrift shop set of American Buffalo by stating “My mom owns an antique store that I grew up in; this is weird.” Ben-Dor was humbled to receive an award for his acting.
Enrico Colantoni, a 38-year-veteran of television and film, fulfilled his lifelong dream of making his Broadway debut this year in Birthday Candles. Geneva Carr, in presenting his award, called his performance “a revelation.” Karen Pittman was delighted to talk about Kara Young who was honored for her performance in Clyde’s. “She is tiny, but mighty and brings an immensity of being to her work,” she said of Young. Through tears of joy, Young said, “I am so grateful for people who come out to see plays in a pandemic. Thank you for keeping the theater alive.”
Phillip Boykin was happy to be “back home” at Circle in the Square, where he performed in Once on this Island. He was 42 when he received his TWA for his debut in Porgy and Bess. He presented his friend Kearstin Piper Brown with her award for Intimate Apparel. As woman of deep faith, she took time to first thank her Creator. Geneva Carr called Jaquel Spivey “wickedly talented, undeniably charismatic, and just downright darling.” Spivey also thanked God. “This is nothing short of a miracle, a blessing.”
Brenda Vaccaro, winner of a Theatre World Award in 1962, enjoyed Crystal Finn’s performance in Birthday Candles and presented her with her award. For her part, Finn was honored to share the stage with Vaccaro, whom she called a “living legend.” Broadway was not on Finn’s radar, and she is now thrilled to be part of the Broadway community.
Bonnie Milligan talked about the maturity and talent of the young actor Justin Cooley who was being honored for his debut in Kimberly Akimbo, and graduated high school a year ago. He talked about the unity and support he has received from the New York theater community. The young cast of music students in The Music Man were honored with the Outstanding Ensemble Award. These honorees included Nick Alvino, Jordan Beall, Ronnie S. Bowman Jr., Audrey Cardwell, JT Church, William Thomas Colin, Gino Cosculleula, Emma Crow, Kammie Crum, Aydin Eyikan, Carlee Flanagan, Ethen Green-Younger, Emily Jewel Hoder, Ethan Lafazan, Kayla LaVine, Drew Minard, Benjamin Pajak, Tanner Quirk, Daniel Patrick Russell, Kayla Teruel, and Mitchell Tobin. They were introduced by Jayne Houdyshell and Jefferson Mays who said they were lucky to be working alongside 21 young actors making their Broadway debuts with energy and joy.
The awards show was directed by Tom D’Angora and Michael D’Angora. The evening capped off with a party at the new nightclub Nebula, also a sponsor of the ceremony.
RED CARPET PHOTOS
Red Carpet Photos by Melissa Griegel Photography
Event/Ceremony Photos by Ed Rotondo Photography
Lead Photo: Dale Badway and Peter Filichia