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Update: And the Henrys go to...

The winning ensemble in Red.
The winning ensemble in Red.

Sitting beside me at the Henrys last night was the woman who makes it all happen: Gloria Shanstrom, general manager of the Colorado Theatre Guild. It is Shanstrom who makes this glittering event -- this huge coming together of elegantly dressed, excitedly-gesticulating actors, directors, tech people and their audiences -- actually happen. Shanstrom deals with the logistical problems all year long: how do you find six Henry judges to visit all the eligible shows in the metro area and get them to turn in their ballots? Oversee tabulation? Field complaints from those who didn't get nominated? Make sure the actual event (at the L2 Arts and Culture Center this year) runs smoothly? Shanstrom watched as the evening unfolded, periodically tensing, laughing, relaxing back into her seat, and tearing up -- and at one point I heard her murmur, "Oh, I wish all the nominees could win."

I didn't.

We critics are an egotistical lot, and deep in our hearts we believe our own judgments to be far more valid than anyone else's. Which isn't to say we don't listen to peers, friends and fellow audience members. Or that we're not sometimes moved by them to examine our ideas and prejudices a little more deeply. Still, the Henry Awards -- in which each critic's grades are melded with dozens of others from other knowledgeable judges and the final results are purely numerical -- are a bit of an ordeal. We're not just sad when our favorite actors or productions get slighted in the nominating process (and sometimes the difference between being nominated and not being nominated is a matter of the tiniest point spread), we're downright indignant.

There's no argument with this year's winners. All of them are intensely worthy. Well, okay, I do have one argument...

I loved Curious Theater Company's Red. Raved about it in print and recommended it to all my friends. But how could this two-character play win a Henry for best ensemble? Ensemble -- as I understand the word -- has to do with a group of performers bringing disparate elements into harmonious cohesion, working together with such fluidity and skill that the rhythms are perfect and the result more resonant and compelling than the sum of the parts. It's a wide-open definition that can encompass a musical with a huge cast or a small experimental piece. The Buntport actors, who have been creating scripts and performing together forever, could win this award hands down every single year. Equally worthy would be a meticulously directed musical. Or just about anything from Phamaly, a company in which people with every kind of physical disability -- and their directors -- find astonishing ways of working together, with the sighted literally leading the blind, those in wheelchairs reliant on those with working lower limbs, and a pervasive spirit of gentleness and cooperation that touches everyone who sees their work. Both the actors in Red -- Larry Hecht and Benjamin Bonenfant -- were fantastic, but would you describe a musical group comprised of a flautist and a pianist as an ensemble? I wouldn't.

No argument, however, about the Henrys that Red scooped up for best production: outstanding direction by Christy Montour-Larson and best supporting actor for Benjamin Bonenfant's beautiful interpretation of an awestruck young artist in the presence of the master, Rothko.

It was also a great pleasure to see a young actor who's even newer on the Denver scene than Bonenfant receive his due: Sean Scrutchins, for his brain-searing performance as a veteran guilty of war crimes in Curious's brilliant Nine Circles. And since Lise Bruneau's ironic Hesione was the high point of the Denver Center's Heartbreak House, how nice to see her rewarded with best lead actress.

Nick Sugar was ebulliant, bouncing onto the stage for his wins for direction and choreography. Erin Rollman of Buntport--one of the town's most gifted clowns--glittered glamorously in black and silver as she and Brian Colonna emceed together for the last time (Steven Burge and GerRee Hinshaw will take over the task next year). Rollman tied for outstanding supporting actress with Hannah Duggan for her irrepressible, opinionated-yet-vulnerable waitress in Tommy Lee Jones Goes to the Opera Alone. And though I loved Samuel D. Hunter's wonderfully smart and understated The Whale, it was thrilling to see Tommy Lee Jones -- one of Buntport's most brilliant offerings ever -- named best new play.

Several special awards were given, including one to John Moore for journalistic excellence in the arts, which brought the audience to its feet. Moore, who retired as the Denver Post theater critic last year, still serves as a Henry judge, and his blog musings on theater can be found on his website.   Here are the nominees -- and the winners:

Outstanding Season for a Theatre Company: Winner: Arvada Center Buntport Theater Company Curious Theatre Company Denver Center Theatre Company Town Hall Arts Center

Outstanding Production of a Play: Winner: Red, Curious Theatre Company, Christy Montour-Larson, Director 9 Circles, Curious Theatre Company, Christy Montour-Larson, Director American Night, Denver Center Theater Company, Sam Woodhouse, Director Clybourne Park, Curious Theatre Company, Chip Walton, Director Tommy Lee Jones Goes to the Opera Alone, Buntport Theater Company, Direction by ensemble

Outstanding Production of a Musical: Winner:Ragtime, Arvada Center, Rod Lansberry, Director; David Nehls, Musical Direction Avenue Q, Vintage Theatre Productions, Bernie Cardell, Director; Marsha Whitaker, Musical Direction The Drowsy Chaperone, Boulder's Dinner Theatre, Michael Duran, Director; Neal Dunfee, Musical Direction The Producers, Town Hall Arts Center, Robert Wells, Director; Donna K. Debreceni, Musical Direction The Who's Tommy, Town Hall Arts Center, Nick Sugar, Director; Donna K. Debreceni, Musical Direction

Outstanding Direction of a Play: Winner: Christy Montour-Larson, Curious Theatre Company, Red Buntport Theater ensemble, Tommy Lee Jones Goes to the Opera Alone Jamie Horton, Creede Repertory Theatre, Unnecessary Farce Christy Montour-Larson, Curious Theatre Company, 9 Circles Sam Woodhouse, Director Denver Center Theater Company, American Night

Outstanding Direction of a Musical: Winner: Nick Sugar, Town Hall Arts Center, The Who's Tommy Bernie Cardell, Vintage Theatre Productions, Avenue Q Michael Duran, Boulder's Dinner Theatre, The Drowsy Chaperone Rod Lansberry, Arvada Center, Ragtime Robert Wells, Town Hall Arts Center, The Producers

Outstanding Musical Direction: Winner: Donna K. Debreceni, Town Hall Arts Center, The Who's Tommy Neal Dunfee, Boulder's Dinner Theatre, The Drowsy Chaperone David Nehls, Arvada Center, The 1940's Radio Hour David Nehls, Arvada Center, Hairspray David Nehls, Arvada Center, Ragtime

Outstanding Actor in a Play: Winner: Sean Scrutchins, Curious Theatre Company, 9 Circles Michael Bouchard, Miners Alley Playhouse, A Touch of Spring David DeSantos, Denver Center Theatre Company, American Night Lawrence Hecht, Curious Theatre Company, Red Michael Kingsbaker, Curious Theatre Company, On An Average Day

Outstanding Actress in a Play: Winner: Lise Bruneau, Denver Center Theatre Company, Heartbreak House Christy Brandt, Creede Repertory Theatre, The Road to Mecca Emily Paton Davies, Paragon Theatre, A Lie of the Mind Marcia Ragonetti, Miners Alley Playhouse, Master Class Caitlin Wise, Creede Repertory Theatre, Unnecessary Farce

Outstanding Actor in a Musical: Winner: Tally Sessions, Arvada Center, Chess Wayne Kennedy, Arvada Center, Ragtime Russell Mernagh, Town Hall Arts Center, The Who's Tommy Brian Norber, Boulder's Dinner Theatre, The Drowsy Chaperone Tyrone Robinson, Arvada Center, Ragtime

Outstanding Actress in a Musical: Winner: Megan Van De Hey, Arvada Center, Ragtime Lisa Finnerty, Town Hall Arts Center, The Who's Tommy Carolyn Lohr, Vintage Theatre Productions, Avenue Q Shannan Steele, Denver Center Attractions, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change Megan Van De Hey, Arvada Center, Chess

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play: Winner: Benjamin Bonenfant, Curious Theatre Company, Red Richard Azurdia, Denver Center Theatre Company, American Night Mario Cabrera, Creede Repertory Theatre, Unnecessary Farce Erik Edborg, Buntport Theater Company, The Roast Beef Situation Bill Hahn, Curious Theatre Company, Becky Shaw

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play: Winner (tie): Erin Rollman, Buntport Theater Company, The Roast Beef Situation; Hannah Duggan, Buntport Theater Company, Tommy Lee Jones Goes to the Opera Alone Dena Martinez, Denver Center Theatre Company, American Night Theresa Reid, Spark Theater, Three Sisters Caitlin Wise, Arvada Center, The Importance of Being Earnest

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical: Winner: Seth Caikowski, Boulder's Dinner Theatre, The Drowsy Chaperone Stephen Day, Arvada Center, Chess Rob Janzen, Town Hall Arts Center, The Who's Tommy Matt LaFontaine, Town Hall Arts Center, The Who's Tommy Brian Norber, Boulder's Dinner Theatre, Phantom

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical: Winner: Arlene Rapal, Vintage Theatre Productions, Avenue Q Joanie Brosseau, Boulder's Dinner Theatre, Phantom Ashlie-Amber Harris, Town Hall Arts Center, The Who's Tommy Shannan Steele, Arvada Center, The 1940's Radio Hour Gayle Turner, Arvada Center, The 1940's Radio Hour Outstanding Ensemble Performance: Winner: Red, Curious Theatre Company, Christy Montour-Larson, Director American Night, Denver Center Theatre Company, Sam Woodhouse, Director Ragtime, Arvada Center, Rod Lansberry, Director; David Nehls, Musical Direction The Roast Beef Situation, Buntport Theater, Direction by ensemble Tommy Lee Jones Goes to the Opera Alone, Buntport Theater, Direction by ensemble The Who's Tommy, Town Hall Arts Center, Nick Sugar, Director; Donna K. Debreceni, Musical Direction

Outstanding New Play: Winner: Tommy Lee Jones Goes to the Opera Alone, by Buntport Theater Company Date, by Luciann Lajoie, Denver Center Theatre Company's Off-Center @ the Jones My Hideous Progeny by Buntport Theater Company The Roast Beef Situation, by Buntport Theater Company The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter, Denver Center Theatre Company

Outstanding Sound Design: Winner: Will Burns, Curious Theatre Company, Red Buntport Theater Ensemble, The Roast Beef Situation, Buntport Theater Company Will Burns, Denver Center Theatre Company, American Night Steve Stevens, Arvada Center, Ragtime Steve Stevens, Arvada Center, The 1940's Radio Hour

Outstanding Lighting Design: Winner: Shannon McKinney, Curious Theatre Company, Red Gail J. Gober, Arvada Center, Ragtime Gail J. Gober, Arvada Center, The 1940's Radio Hour Charles MacLeod, Denver Center Theatre Company, American Night Jon Scott-McKean, Town Hall Arts Center, The Who's Tommy

Outstanding Costume Design: Winner: Christina Wright, Denver Center Theatre Company, American Night Buntport Theater Ensemble, Buntport Theater, The Roast Beef Situation Sally Burke, Arvada Center, The Importance of Being Earnest Claire Henkel, Arvada Center, Ragtime Melinda Lacy, Spark Theater, Three Sisters

Outstanding Scenic Design: Winner: Susan Crabtree, Curious Theatre Company, Red Brian Mallgrave, Arvada Center, The 1940's Radio Hour Jen Orf, Aurora Fox, Rashomon Sanford Roberts, Denver Center Theatre Company, American Night Susan Crabtree, Curious Theatre Company, Clybourne Park

Outstanding Choreography: Winner: Nick Sugar, Town Hall Arts Center, The Who's Tommy Alicia Dunfee, Boulder's Dinner Theatre, The Drowsy Chaperone Kelly Kates, Town Hall Arts Center, The Producers Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, Arvada Center, Ragtime Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, Arvada Center, The 1940's Radio Hour

The other special awards including Tom McNally, Lifetime Achievement Award; Charlie Miller, Oustanding Multi-Media Presentation; Thunder River Theatre Company (Carbondale), Outstanding Regional Theatre; and honors to both the National Theatre Conservatory, which graduated its last class this year, and Actors' Equity Association, which celebrates a hundred years in 2013.

If (almost) all the wins were well-deserved, a few omissions among the nominations troubled me. I'd like to have seen Angela Reed considered for her strong turn as a brisk, exasperated but compassionate nurse in The Whale and Josh Hartwell for his work in Curious's Clybourne Park. Other omissions were downright stunning: Boulder Dinner Theatre's Phantom could well have been nominated, as could leading man Markus Warren. But how, by all that's holy, could my fellow judges have not noticed Maggie Sczekan, the transcendent young talent who played Christina? The voice alone should have done it, but the girl's a fine and charming actress as well, and she had my companion -- who's not particularly fond of either dinner theater or musicals --- on her feet applauding at the curtain call.

Another incomprehensible omission: the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's Romeo and Juliet. It was rich in knock-out performances -- by Leslie O'Carroll as the Nurse, Mark Rubald in the usually thankless role of Lord Capulet, Geoffrey Kent as a sexy, crazy-quipping Mercutio -- but Jamie Ann Romero's break-your-heart Juliet was without question one of the best performances of the year. I note that the Denver Center's lively and original Taming of the Shrew, in which Kathleen McCall was such a complex and interesting Katherina, didn't get a nomination, either, and can't help wondering if some of my fellow judges just plain don't like Shakespeare.

Click on the following links for Juliet Wittman's reviews of nominated productions: -- Red -- Tommy Lee Jones Goes to Opera Alone -- 9 Circles -- American Night -- Clybourne Park -- Avenue Q -- The Drowsy Chaperone -- The Roast Beef Situation -- Ragtime -- The Importance of Being Earnest -- The 1940's Radio Hour -- Unnecessary Farce -- A Touch of Spring -- The Road to Mecca -- Heartbreak House -- A Lie of the Mind -- Master Class -- Chess -- I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change -- Becky Shaw -- Phantom -- My Hideous Progeny -- The Whale



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