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By Thomas Brennan

This year, the Elliot Norton Award show “went on” but it was a decidedly different event from years past. The annual awards ceremony, at which the best of Boston’s theater offerings is recognized, was broadcast online by the Boston Theatre Critics Association on May 11, th

The nominations ranged from Boston productions from April 1st 2019 to March 2020. 

There were fears over how the show would go on with the current quarantine and need for social distancing, but the curtain still rose. The show was concise yet still heartfelt and enthused in its celebration of the efforts and accomplishments of Boston’s theater community. There were ever present ASL translators throughout the award show, ensuring those who are deaf could still also enjoy the event. The ceremony lasted just under an hour. The presenters – the members of the Boston Theater Critics Association, whose votes determined the award recipients – all streamed from their homes. Despite the distance and this year’s difference in production, the event stood as a resounding unification of the community, as well as a celebration of Boston’s artists, the productions of the past year, and the indomitable spirit of theatre in harsh times.

Clips from this year’s productions added to this year’s awards ceremony.

The ceremony displayed clips from various productions, highlighting the great work and love put into various plays. Actors from “Caroline, or Change” opened with a powerful song, followed by powerful and uproariously entertaining clips from productions such as “Moby Dick,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Pacific Overtures,” and “Parade.” Each clip showed off some of the greatest performances of the season while complementing the masterful production work that has gone on over the last year. 

The ceremony’s penultimate event was an especially whimsical and merry original song about the theatre surviving under social distancing, performed by various members of the New England acting community. Each of the performers did so from home, some in more subdued settings, others that were more dramatic. There’s nothing quite like seeing a man dressed as King George sing alongside a girl trying her best to play Xbox.

“Nortons” president Joyce Kulhawik.

As Joyce Kulhawik, the President of the Boston Theatre Critics Association, put it best, “I actually find myself very inspired by the opportunity for reinventing everything- and I can’t wait to see what this incredibly creative community comes up with.”

The final note on the remarkable ceremony was a collection of poignant and loving testimonies from those who had worked alongside Johnny Lee Davenport. The stories and descriptions of this extraordinary actor and the work he’d given to his art were beyond heartwarming. He lived for 70 years, bringing great joy, kindness, professionalism and his indisputable talent to every production he was a part of. The entire community mourns his loss, but there’s no doubt he’ll stand as inspiration to all those pursuing the New England stage.

Below and the list of nominees and Winners for the ceremony. (Winners in each nomination category are marked with a * .)

Elliot Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence 

Johnny Lee Davenport

Special Citation 

“Shear Madness” which opened in Boston and just ended its 40-year run as one of the longest-running non-musical plays in the world

The 2020 Elliot Norton Award nominees 

Outstanding Musical Production 

*“Parade,” Moonbox Productions 

“Moby-Dick,” American Repertory Theater  

“Sunset Boulevard,” North Shore Music Theatre 

“Caroline, or Change,” Moonbox Productions  

“Pacific Overtures,” Lyric Stage Company of Boston 

Outstanding Production, Large Theater 

*“The Purists,” Huntington Theatre Company  

“Sweat,” Huntington Theatre Company  

“Detroit Red,” ArtsEmerson 

Outstanding Production, Midsize Theater 

“Pass Over,” SpeakEasy Stage Company and The Front Porch Arts Collective 

“The Children,” SpeakEasy Stage Company  

*“Cloud 9,” The Nora  

“Cambodian Rock Band,” Merrimack Repertory Theatre  

“Vanity Fair,” Underground Railway Theater 

Outstanding Production, Small or Fringe Company 

“The Return,” Israeli Stage  

*“The Stone,” Arlekin Players Theatre 

 “The Ebonic Woman,” Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans 

“The Seagull,” Arlekin Players Theatre 

“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,” Apollinaire Theatre Company

Outstanding Solo Performance

Billy Meleady, “the smuggler,” Boston Playwrights’ Theatre

Outstanding Direction, Large Theater

*Rachel Chavkin, “Moby-Dick,” American Repertory Theater 

Billy Porter,” “The Purists,” Huntington Theatre Company 

Kimberly Senior, “Sweat,” Huntington Theatre Company 

Lee Sunday Evans, “Detroit Red,” ArtsEmerson; 

Kevin P. Hill, “Sunset Boulevard,” North Shore Music Theatre

Outstanding Direction, Midsize Theater 

*Lee Mikeska Gardner, “Cloud 9,” The Nora 

Benny Sato Ambush, “black odyssey boston,” Underground Railway Theater and The Front Porch Arts Collective 

David R. Gammons, “Vanity Fair,” Underground Railway Theater 

Marti Lyons, “Cambodian Rock Band,” Merrimack Repertory Theatre 

Eric Tucker, “The Crucible,” The Nora in association with Bedlam 

Outstanding Direction, Small or Fringe Theater 

Jason Modica, “Parade,” Moonbox Productions 

Danielle Fauteux Jacques, “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,” Apollinaire Theatre Company 

*Igor Golyak, “The Stone,” Arlekin Players Theatre 

Igor Golyak, “The Seagull,” Arlekin Players Theatre 

Guy Ben-Aharon, “The Return,” Israeli Stage

Outstanding Musical Performance by an Actor 

*Aaron Patterson, “Parade,” Moonbox Productions 

Nicholas Rodriguez, “Sunset Boulevard,” North Shore Music Theatre 

Rashed Alnuaimi, “Oliver!,” New Repertory Theatre 

Tom Nelis, “Moby-Dick,” American Repertory Theater 

Peter Mill, “The Rocky Horror Show,” Moonbox Productions 

Outstanding Musical Performance by an Actress 

Yewande Odetoyinbo, “Caroline, or Change,” Moonbox Productions 

Alice Ripley, “Sunset Boulevard,” North Shore Music Theatre 

*Katrina Z Pavao, “Little Shop of Horrors,” Lyric Stage Company of Boston 

Haley K. Clay, “Parade,” Moonbox Productions 

Outstanding Actor, Large Theater 

Will LeBow, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” Huntington Theatre Company 

Morocco Omari, “The Purists,” Huntington Theatre Company 

*Eric Berryman, “Detroit Red,” ArtsEmerson

Outstanding Actor, Midsize Theater 

Nathan Malin, “Admissions,” SpeakEasy Stage Company 

*Kadahj Bennett, “Pass Over,” SpeakEasy Stage Company and The Front Porch Arts Collective

Hubens “Bobby” Cius, “Pipeline,” The Nora and WAM Theatre 

Brandon G. Green, “black odyssey boston,” Underground Railway Theater and The Front Porch Arts Collective

Albert Park, “Cambodian Rock Band,” Merrimack Repertory Theatre 

Outstanding Actor, Small or Fringe Theater 

*Nael Nacer, “The Return,” Israeli Stage 

Brooks Reeves, “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,” Apollinaire Theatre Company

Alexander Pobutsky, “Hir,” Apollinaire Theatre Company 

Seamus G. Doyle, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” Apollinaire Theatre Company 

Minh-Anh Day, “Wolf Play,” Company One Theatre

Outstanding Actress, Large Theater

*Analisa Velez, “The Purists,” Huntington Theatre Company 

Izzie Steele, “The Purists,” Huntington Theatre Company 

Nora Eschenheimer, “Cymbeline,” Commonwealth Shakespeare Company 

Jennifer Regan, “Sweat,” Huntington Theatre Company 

Tyla Abercrumbie, “Sweat,” Huntington Theatre Company 

Outstanding Actress, Midsize Theater 

Cheryl McMahon, “Admissions,” SpeakEasy Stage Company 

*Paula Plum, “The Children,” SpeakEasy Stage Company 

Ireon Roach, “School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play,” SpeakEasy Stage Company 

Karen MacDonald, “The Children,” SpeakEasy Stage Company 

Debra Wise, “Vanity Fair,” Underground Railway Theater 

Outstanding Actress, Small or Fringe Theater 

*Darya Denisova, “The Stone,” Arlekin Players Theatre 

Anne Gottlieb, “The Seagull,” Arlekin Players Theatre 

Lily Kaufman, “Cry It Out,” Apollinaire Theatre Company 

Becca A. Lewis, “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,” Apollinaire Theatre Company

Philana Mia, “The Return,” Israeli Stage 

Outstanding Ensemble, Large Theater 

“Moby-Dick,” American Repertory Theater 

“The Purists,” Huntington Theatre Company 

*“Sweat,” Huntington Theatre Company 

“Quixote Nuevo,” Huntington Theatre Company 

“Sunset Boulevard,” North Shore Music Theatre

Outstanding Ensemble, Midsize Theater

“School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play,” SpeakEasy Stage Company

 “Cloud 9,” The Nora  

“Choir Boy,” SpeakEasy Stage Company 

*“black odyssey boston,” Underground Railway Theater and The Front Porch Arts Collective “Pipeline,” The Nora and WAM Theatre

Outstanding Ensemble, Small or Fringe Theater 

“The Ebonic Woman,” Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans 

“Parade,” Moonbox Productions 

“The Seagull,” Arlekin Players Theatre 

*“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,” Apollinaire Theatre Company 

“The Stone,” Arlekin Players Theatre

Outstanding New Script 

“The Purists” by Dan McCabe, Huntington Theatre Company 

“Moby-Dick” by Dave Malloy, American Repertory Theater 

“Wolf Play” by Hansol Jung, Company One Theatre 

“The Ebonic Woman” by Ryan Landry, Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans 

*“Detroit Red” by Will Power, ArtsEmerson

Outstanding Design, Large Theater 

*“Moby-Dick,” American Repertory Theater Scenic design by Mimi Lien; costume design by Brenda Abbandandolo; lighting design by Bradley King; sound design by Hidenori Nakajo; puppet design by Eric F. Avery; wig, hair and make-up design by Rachel Padula-Shufelt 

“Sunset Boulevard,” North Shore Music Theatre Scenic design by Kyle Dixon; costume design by Anthony Powell and Kelly Baker; lighting design by Jose Santiago; wig and hair design by Rachel Padula-Shufelt 

“Detroit Red,” ArtsEmerson Scenic and costume design by Adam Rigg; lighting design by Alan C. Edwards; sound design by Justin Ellington; projection design by Ari Herzig

“Sweat,” Huntington Theatre Company Scenic design by Cameron Anderson; costume design by Junghyun Georgia Lee; lighting design by D.M. Wood; sound design by Pornchanok Kanchanabanca 

“Quixote Nuevo,” Huntington Theatre Company Scenic design by Takeshi Kata; costume design by Rachel Anne Healy; lighting design by Brian J. Lilienthal; sound design by David R. Molina

Outstanding Design, Midsize Theater 

*“Vanity Fair,” Underground Railway Theater Scenic design by David R. Gammons; costume design by Leslie Held; lighting design by Jeff Adelberg; sound design by David Wilson; properties coordinated by Ciara McAloon

 “black odyssey boston,” Underground Railway Theater and The Front Porch Arts Collective Scenic design by Jon Savage; costume design by Nadine Grant; lighting design by Aja M. Jackson; sound design by Dewey Dellay; property design by Elizabeth Rocha 

“Cloud 9,” The Nora Scenic design by Allison Olivia Choat; costume design by Elizabeth Rocha; lighting design by Whitney Brady-Guzmán; sound design by David Bryan Jackson; property design by Stef Tivan 

“Pass Over,” SpeakEasy Stage Company and The Front Porch Arts Collective Scenic design by Baron E. Pugh; costume design by Chelsea Kerl; lighting design by Kathy A. Perkins; sound design by Anna Drummond 

“The Cake,” Lyric Stage Company of Boston Scenic design by Matt Whiton; costume design by Charles Schoonmaker; lighting design by Aja M. Jackson; sound design by Arshan Gailus; props artisan Lauren Corcuera

Outstanding Design, Small or Fringe Theater 

“Parade,” Moonbox Productions Scenic design by Lindsay Genevieve Fuori; costume design by Chelsea Kerl; lighting design by Steve Shack; sound design by Elizabeth Cahill; hair and wig design by Peter Mill 

*“The Seagull,” Arlekin Players Theatre Scenic design by Nikolay Simonov; costume design by Nastya Bugaeva; lighting design by Jeff Adelberg 

“The Stone,” Arlekin Players Theatre Stage design by David R. Gammons; costume design by Nastya Bugaeva; lighting design by Jeff Adelberg; videos designed by Vladimir Gusev

“Vietgone,” Company One Theatre Scenic and projection design by Izmir Ickbal; costume design by Debra Kim Sivigny; lighting design by Jennifer Fok; sound design by Aubrey Dube; properties by Kelly Smith 

“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,” Apollinaire Theatre Company Set/lighting design by Danielle Fauteux Jacques; costume design by Elizabeth Rocha; sound design by David Reiffel

Outstanding Musical Direction 

*Catherine Stornetta, “Parade,” Moonbox Productions 

David Freeman Coleman, “Choir Boy,” SpeakEasy Stage Company 

Dan Rodriguez, “Caroline, or Change,” Moonbox Productions 

Milton Granger, “Sunset Boulevard,” North Shore Music Theatre 

Or Matias, “Moby-Dick,” American Repertory Theater

Outstanding Choreography 

Yewande Odetoyinbo and Ruka White, “Choir Boy,” SpeakEasy Stage Company 

Kira Troilo, “Parade,” Moonbox Productions 

*Ilyse Robbins, “Swan Lake in Blue,” Greater Boston Stage Company 

Outstanding Visiting Production, Non-Musical

“Indecent,” Huntington Theatre Company

Outstanding Visiting Production, Musical

“American Utopia,” Ambassador Theatre Group

Outstanding Visiting Musical Performance

Ben Levi Ross, “Dear Evan Hansen,” Broadway In Boston

Outstanding Visiting Musical Ensemble

“Six,” American Repertory Theater (Adrianna Hicks, Andrea Macasaet, Abby Mueller, Brittney Mack, Courtney Mack and Anna Uzele)


By Thomas Brennan

Based on a real-life, 1960s, bank heist pulled off by four criminals, the chase by a corrupt law enforcement officer, and the siege where the criminal protagonists make their final stand, Plata Quemada is a play that carries itself on both strong performances and bold direction with its integration of graphic novel elements.

It at first seems like a production where there are no heroes, only a story where each character who enters is competing to be even harsher than the last. This production isn’t content to do that though. It takes its time in humanizing the criminal protagonists while never fully justifying the atrocious actions or depriving them of consequence. The story builds a sense of intimacy and rawness in the criminals’ dynamics. It’s obvious how awful and dark these characters are and that they’re still relying on one another like a castaway to wreckage. Each of the actors play multiple roles in the story, and though it can be hard to track at certain moments, each performance is always either a gut-punch or a heart-wrench in some form.

Plata Quemada is the latest play of the season, adapted from Ricardo Piglia’s novel, and at the Emerson Paramount theatre from March 11 to 15. Directed by Juan Carlos Zagal and is produced by Teatrocinema, which Zagal co-founded.

All of the technical aspects of the production are as much a delight as the performances themselves. The graphic novel elements and animation on a stage seems like a risky concept, but this technical choreography works. The use of lighting and the backscree are done to a masterful degree. From the starting scene it’s obvious the power this play will have with its use of props, angles and lighting. It brings a dynamic and energetic movement to what could have been otherwise straightforward and less interesting scenes. 

The only thing that distracted was the use of subtitles. The choice to assure all the spoken lines were kept in Spanish was definitely the right move as it kept the feel of the production authentic in a historical context and made it feel more immersive. In certain moments the subtitles kept from giving full focus on the performances. It was surprising the play never went the route of word bubbles as traditional graphic novels do; potentially adding even more to the play from the medium they’re pulling inspiration from and sidestepping more inherent issues with subtitles altogether. 

The film is provocative and mature in its portrayal of violence, but it balances itself that while it pushes the envelope, that it never feels like a line is crossed unnecessarily. The climax is heartfelt while still feeling like an inevitable path for the story. The end message and its motif of the burning money was also incredibly poignant. It creates the question of how material wealth is able to incite more anger in the populace than the actual gruesome loss of human life along the criminals violent trail.

Plata Quemada is definitely a unique piece with a strong message that amounts to an absolute must see for anyone looking for a great show.

Styleboston creator Terri Stanley talked to American Repertory Theater Artistic Director Diane Paulus in 2009 for the TV show’s “Power Player” segment.

CAMBRIDGE – After 10 years and tons (probably, literally) of glitter, The Donkey Show will end its run this week at the American Repertory Theater’s Club Oberon on the fringes of Harvard Square.

The immersive theatrical experience was part of Artistic Director Diane Paulus’ first season in the “Shakespeare Exploded” festival that also included The Best of Both Worlds and Sleep No More, which took over a school in Brookline.

Paulus created The Donkey Show with her husband, theater producer Randy Weiner, and they staged it Off-Broadway in 1999 to rave reviews.

During its run at the ART, the show was extended because of popular demand and later moved to weekends only, where it continued as a destination stop for brides-to-be and superfans. The Boston Globe’s Meredith Goldstein documented the show’s long run. The show succeeded in at least one area, Goldstein writes, it attracted audiences considerably younger than had been seen at the ART.

The show’s closing also opens a coveted timeslot for local or smaller productions and marks a new chapter for Oberon.

Styleboston’s host and creator Terri Stanley interviewed Paulus prior to The Donkey Show’s opening as one of the TV show’s “Power Player” segments. (See clip above.) This segment originally aired 10 years ago this month.

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Billy Porter rocks the red carpet

If there was a Tony Award for best dress worn by a presenter, then actor-director Billy Porter would have taken the prize. His flowing custom-made ballgown (created from the curtain of Broadway’s Kinky Boots) – the show that won him his Tony Award – was just one more bold choice by the star of TV’s Pose. Porter will be in Boston late this summer directing the world premiere of Dan McCabe’s The Purists at the Huntington Theatre Company.

At the award ceremony, the most-talked about outfit was worn by singer-songwriter/playwright Taylor Mac, who was on stage in a full-fledged costume created by Matthew Flower, who is known as Machine Dazzle. Mac, who wrote the Tony-nominated Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus. He became a hit in Boston for his five-hour show that played at the American Repertory Theater’s Oberon in Cambridge in 2012.

It was a good night for Bryan Cranston, who won for his role as Howard Beale in the stage adaptation of the film Network. Cranston won a Tony two years ago for his portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson in All the Way, which got its start at the American Repertory Theater (ART) in Cambridge before heading to Broadway. In his acceptance speech, Cranston used the moment to reflect on the state of things, which was very “Howard Beale” moment: “The media is not the enemy of the people. Demagoguery is the enemy of the people.”

And while, the Northern Ireland drama The Ferryman won the best play Tony, it was Hadestown, conceived and written by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, who won a Tony for her score that stole the night with eight total awards. Also winning for Hadestown was director Rachel Chavkin, who was at the ART a couple of years ago with Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 and returns to the ART this summer to open the 2019-2020 season with Six, a musical about the merry wives of Henry VIII.

Berklee College of Music and its sister school Boston Conservatory at Berklee College alumni and faculty were involved in various capacities with other Tony Award-winning shows this season, including Oklahoma! Hadestown, The Cher Show, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ain’t Too Proud, Ink, and Tootsie

Sergio Trujillo received the 2019 Tony Award for Best Choreography in a Musical, for the show Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.  He, too, had success in Boston as the director and choreographer for the stunning Arrabal, at the ART for which he won Elliot Norton Awards.  

Sergio Trujillo accepts the Best Choreography award for “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations.” REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Also – finally – winning a Tony for his turn on Hadestown was Broadway veteran André De Shields, the narrator of the show. De Shields stole the show in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of The Jungle Book in which he played King Louie. The Huntington had a lot to celebrate on Sunday night with 23 of its alumni receiving Tony Awards nominations this year.

Stephen Lewin and Erica Schwartz of the Ambassador Theatre Group with Emerson President Lee Pelton at press event in November. Photo by Bill Brett

BOSTON – We now have a date.

After two years of being dark and undergoing an extension renovation, the Emerson Colonial Theatre will re-open on June 27 with the world premiere of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” producers Global Creatures and the Ambassador Theatre Group announced.

The historic Boston theater, the anchor of Boston’s Theater District, will re-open on June 27 for just 36 performances. “Moulin Rouge!,” is based on the Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film of the same name, and is expected to transfer to Broadway for a run. “Moulin Rouge! The Musical, will play this limited engagement at the newly refurbished venue at 106 Boylston St.

The Colonial, long known for its amazing acoustics, launched many legendary shows from its storied stage on Boylston Street, including “Anything Goes,” “Porgy and Bess,” “Oklahoma!,” “Born Yesterday,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Grand Hotel,” and “La Cage aux Folles.”

Tickets for the musical go on sale on Wednesday, January 17 and start at $55. They are available at or by calling 866.616.0272. (In-person purchases will be possible when the theater’s box office opens at a later date.)

Although casting has not yet been announced, the musical is directed by Alex Timbers (A Tony nominee for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “Peter and the Starcatcher”) with a book by John Logan, in photo, (Tony Award for “Red”) and choreography by Sonya Tayeh.

As in Luhrmann’s film, “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” celebrates some of the greatest popular music of the last 50 years. The stage musical promises to feature many of the iconic songs from the movie and also includes recent hits released since the movie premiered 15 years ago.


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ColoredMuseum Billy Porter

Billy Porter, Tony-winning star of the colorful musical “Kinky Boots,” trades his drag gown for the director’s chair with Huntington Theatre Company’s production of “The Colored Museum,” a scathing comedy that cycles through nearly a dozen vignettes that explore slavery, modern gender roles, beauty standards, and other issues as they relate to the African-American culture. Each theatrical exhibits offers a chance to comment, critique, and frequently satirize — as any good “Museum” would.

WHERE: Avenue of the Arts/BU Theatre
WHEN: March 6 — April 5

Marginalized and “outsider” artists dominate the 35 talents represented in this showcase of photography, paintings, and sculpture produced mainly between the 1960s and today — from people of faith to people in prison. But each unique piece is a brush stroke in a larger depiction of the sultry fable that is America’s Deep South. And if some of them happen to involve eerie photographs of semi-humanoid creatures in kitschy wood-paneled dens — well then, color this true blue Yankee heart intrigued.

WHERE: The Institute of Contemporary Art
WHEN: February 4 — May 10

You’ve seen her in “Erin Brokovich,” the “Amateurs,” “Christmas with the Kranks” and “I Shot Andy Warhol.” Let’s not forget about the TV series “Hart of Dixie” and “Pretty Little Liars.” Step back a few years and you would have seen her on stage at the Wilbur Theatre in the Tony Award-winning revival of “All My Sons.” But if you met her on the street you’d probably slow down and say to yourself “Where do I know her from?”


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