Written by Julia Stier
On January 13, 2020, LA STAGE Alliance held their Annual Ovation Awards, a black-tie celebration in Downtown Los Angeles at The Theatre at the Ace Hotel. There, the gliteratti of the LA theatre scene gathered to celebrate the 30th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards. In continuing with its three decade-long tradition of recognizing excellence in the theatre, this Ovations Awards celebration commemorated the past, present, and future of LA theatre.
This year, the grand celebration was hosted by George Salazar, who busted onto the scene by belting “June is Busting Out All Over,” Leslie Uggams style. Salazar originated the role of Michael Mell in Be More on Chill on Broadway, and recently thrilled audiences with his portrayal of Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors at the Pasadena Playhouse. Donning his signature thick-framed glasses and headband, Salazar praised LA for its energetic theatre scene and it’s dedication to telling diverse stories and representing marginalized communities.
“Tonight we honor our past and celebrate our present, always bearing in mind that we are marching forward with the mission that everyone has a right to be invited to the party!” said Salazar, who was met with thunderous applause.
As a part of that dedication to inclusion, two ASL interpreters – Allisun Kale and Drew Tolson – were present onstage for the entirety of the night. Also, this year was the second time the ceremony has been livestreamed, so those who could not attend could watch the awards.
The Ovation Awards are the only peer-judged theatre awards in Los Angeles. During the year, approximately 272 voters attended and evaluated a wide range of theatrical productions. From musicals, to world-premieres, to reimagined classics, all of the nominated shows, performers, and designers brought that something special to the stage for the 2018-2019 season.
Founded in 1989, the Ovations recognize excellence in theatrical performance, design, and production in the greater Los Angeles area. The very first Ovation Awards were held at the Pasadena Playhouse. Throughout its history, the awards have been hosted by some of the finest actors around, including Neil Patrick Harris (who hosted three years in a row), Alexandra Billings, Lily Tomlin, and Nathan Lane. In 1993, the first year the Ovation Awards became truly competitive, artists in 24 different categories were honored.
Now, the Ovation Awards has 34 categories, recognizing work at both large and intimate theatres. This year, there were 199 nominations for 156 individual artists from 64 different productions presented by 43 organizations. A total of 6,462 ballots were cast and counted, and their results revealed that night.
The best part about the Ovation Awards is the collective ownership and pride of being a theatre artist and patron. Michaela Bulkley – Director of Programs and Development at LA STAGE Alliance – summed it up best. She states that Dr. Brené Brown once defined play as being “time spent without purpose.” But, Bulkely offered, “for most of us, plays are our purpose.”
Bulkely also went on to praise the patrons and audiences of LA theatre, who “are just as brave and as bold as the artists.” She thanked them for their support and continuance in showing that “this community is doing something outstanding and worth celebrating.”
Building off of that sentiment, later in the night Salazar performed “Kaboom” from Two-Player Game, a song about how art has the potential to change, move, and inspire others. The audience ate it up.
All of the nominees last night have created art that has undoubtedly made an impact on the LA theatre scene, and all who engage with it. So, without further adieu, let’s get on to the winners!
One of the most prestigious awards given at the ceremony was the Dorothy and Richard E. Sherwood Award. As stated by the award’s presenter, Patricia Garza, this $10,000 award is given to an “innovative, bold, risk-taking artist.” Created in 1996, the Sherwood Award in an annual fund that is meant to support adventurous artists and their work. Winners of the award are invited to cultivate a relationship with Center Theatre Group.
This year, the accolade was bestowed upon Mat Diafos Sweeney, a composer and director who specializes in creating performances pieces staged in non-theatrical venues. Since 2008, he has been devising new work for Four Larks, a company that focuses on presenting work that combines music, theatre, visual art, and dance. His adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein will premiere at The Wallis in February of this year.
Of the 34 category awards presented, here are some of the highlight wins of the night.
Spencer Liff, Singing in the Rain, La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.
Liff is a two-time Emmy nominee for his work on So You Think You Can Dance. When accepting his Ovation, Liff gleefully shared that Singing in the Rain was the first time he had choreographed and directed a show. He ended his speech with, “I hope I did this iconic choreography proud.”
June Albert, Sucker Punch, Coeurage Theatre Company
“I’ve never even won a raffle,” an exuberant Albert shared as she accepted her award. Albert thanked Ovation voters for recognizing how difficult it was to create fight choreo for a show like Sucker Punch, which is about boxers, and took place in a real boxing gym.
Acting Ensemble of a Play
Cost of Living, Fountain Theatre
When accepting this award, Katy Sullivan thanked the Fountain Theatre for “casting the show authentically.”
Best Production of a Play (Intimate Theatre)
Cost of Living, Fountain Theatre
Stephen Sachs, Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre, proudly shared that the Fountain Theatre was the first theatre to produce Cost of Living after it won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.
Best Production of a Play (Large Theatre)
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Geffen Playhouse won a total of 8 Ovation Awards last night, including Best Production of a Play (Large Theatre).
Best Production of a Musical (Intimate Theatre)
Lizzie, The Musical, Chance Theatre
The musical about Lizzie Borden, double murderess, thrilled audiences, and landed the Chance Theatre with this much sought after award, which was accepted by the self-dubbed “Team Hatchet.”
Best Musical Production (Large Theatre)
Ragtime, Pasadena Playhouse
Danny Feldman, Executive/Artistic Director of Pasadena Playhouse, uplifted that Ragtime employed “over 100 local LA theatre artists,” and thanked his colleagues at the Playhouse, “the hardest working staff in American theatre.”
The Fountain Theatre took home the award of the night – best season!
The Fountain Theatre was nominated 18 times and won 6 of those nominates, including an Ovation Honor for Music Composition for a Play.
After the ceremony, the festivities continued at The Globe Theatre, where a live DJ and a champagne toast kept the party going well into the night. Congratulations to all winners, nominees, and to our exceptional Los Angeles theatre community!