In an intensely active professional-theater town - where some weeks see a half-dozen openings and one show in four is a world premiere - an oldie but goodie from America's longest-running theater has seized the day.
Fiddler on the Roof, the Walnut Street Theatre's final mainstage show of the season, swept the nominations announced Monday for the 16th annual Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, the region's professional theater honors. The Walnut itself, in its 201st season of operation, garnered the most Barrymore nominations - 21 in all - for its season.
The Walnut's large showing in nominations is in stark contrast to other such announcements over the last decade.
For five years beginning in 2002, Walnut president and producing artistic director Bernard Havard pulled the company - which has more subscribers than any other English-speaking theater in the world - out of the running for the Barrymores after taking exception to the way they were judged - creating a glaring hole in the awards and spurring ongoing reforms in the judging system.
The nominees were announced at New Freedom Theatre on North Broad Street by the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, which organizes the awards. Hosting were Philadelphia actors and Tony Braithwaite and Steven Wright.
Winners will be announced Oct. 4 at a ceremony at the Walnut, followed by a reception nearby at the Benjamin Franklin House ballroom.
The Walnut's production of Fiddler, the sweet, unsettling 1964 musical about Tevye the milkman and his family and their ill-fated Jewish village at the outset of the Russian Revolution, drew its power from a sincerity that constantly reminded audiences of life's precariousness - and was rewarded with 13 Barrymore nominations.
Fiddler, which met Walnut's $638,000 box-office target in heavy advance sales during a week of mid-May previews, was nominated for best musical production, best musical ensemble, overall direction (by Bruce Lumpkin), and music direction (by Douglass G. Lutz).
Mark Jacoby, Fiddler's Tevye, and Mary Martello, as his wife, Golde, received nominations for best actor and actress in a musical. Two of the family's daughters and their beaus - played by Rita Markova, Gianna Yanelli, Nick Dalton, and Marcus Stevens - received supporting-player nominations, as did Michelle Gaudette for her fiery choreography, Jack Jacobs for lighting, and Colleen Grady for costumes.
The Arden Theatre Company, which often tops the Barrymore nomination lists with numbers that have climbed higher than the Walnut's 21, came in next in Monday's announcement, with 16 nominations spread among shows that spanned its season. Its final show, the second staging of the Steven Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park With George in the company's history, received three nominations, one for best musical production. Its stagings of The History Boys and a hit family show, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, were nominated as best play productions.
Lantern Theater Company and the Philadelphia Theatre Company each received a dozen nominations for their work - among them an outstanding play production nomination for Lantern's two-hander The Breath of Life, David Hare's play about betrayal, marriage, memories, and privacy, and an outstanding musical production nomination for Philadelphia Theatre Company's elegant rendering of The Light in the Piazza.
Piazza came in second to Fiddler for the season's most nominated productions, with 10. In addition to its entire production and a whole-cast nomination for best musical ensemble, the show's overall director, Joe Calarco, is nominated. Sherri L. Edelen, who played a mother on a trip to Italy with her brain-damaged daughter, is a nominee for best musical actress, as are Charles Pistone, Matthew Scott, and Whitney Bashor for supporting-role awards. Michael Fagin is nominated for set design and R. Lee Kennedy for lighting.
Eric Ebbenga is nominated for his music direction of Piazza - one of two he received, the other as music director of the Arden's Sunday in the Park. Ebbenga is one of several dual-nominated local theater artists working in various forms of design for the stage, or in choreography.
The dual nominations are a sign that the theater community, whose members continue to grow in the region, include stagecrafters - people who are not actors or directors - who can stay in the area, work on multiple stages and earn a living.
The prime example among the nominees announced Monday is theatrical designer Christopher Colucci, with four nominations: one for sound and another for original music for Lantern's The Breath of Life (also nominated as a best play production), a third for his sound design of Azuka Theatre's The Long Christmas Ride Home, and a fourth for his original music for Arden's Rabbit Hole.
Lighting designer Thom Weaver, a nominee for this year's emerging artist award, is up for three of the five lighting nominations, each for a different company - Blue Door for the Arden, The Breath of Life for the Lantern, and The Foocy for Delaware Theatre Company, the Wilmington stage that is a member of the Theatre Alliance.
Set designer Mimi Lien received two nominations, for her revolving set of evolving rooms in the Wilma Theater's Becky Shaw and her Wild West, middle-of-nowhere roadside cafe in Pig Iron Theatre Company's Welcome to Yuba City - both also nominated for best production of a play. Costume designer Rosemary E. McKelvey's two nods are for shows with very different apparel: the People's Light & Theater Company holiday panto, Snow White, and Arden's Sunday in the Park.
Choreographer and movement artist John Bellomo also received two nominations, for Theatre Exile's Hunter Gatherers, and with movement artist Tony Stetson for InterAct Theatre Company's constantly kinetic The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.
Two actors also received dual nominations. In addition to one for best musical actress in Fiddler, Martello is in the running as best supporting musical actress in Walnut's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which also received a best musical production nomination. Steve Pacek, nominated for the emerging artist award, has two acting nominations, for best actor in both a play - as the mouse in the Arden's If You Give a Mouse a Cookie - and a musical, as shleppy Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, a coproduction by Theatre Horizon and the 11th Hour Theatre Company that played in Norristown, then Center City.
In addition to Pacek and Weaver, actors James Ijames, Sarah Sanford, and Amanda Schoonover are nominees for the $10,000 emerging Philadelphia theater artist award.
Other theater companies with a leading number of nominations are the Wilma Theater with nine; Pig Iron Theatre Company, People's Light, and Act II Playhouse with six each; and InterAct, the Devon Theater, and Theatre Exile with five each.
Act II, in Ambler, received a nomination for best musical production for The Story of My Life, staged by artistic director Bud Martin, who also received a nomination; Martin was a lead producer of the show two seasons back on Broadway, where it did not fare well.
The Wilma's popular Becky Shaw, a wickedly funny comedy, received seven nominations in all. The Walnut's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Pig Iron Theatre Company's Welcome to Yuba City each received six, and the Devon Theater's production of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, five.
Pig Iron's Yuba City, the only world premiere to receive major nominations, was a bizarre look at life amid the tumbleweeds in a town where little happens on the surface but life roils underneath; it was huge hit and a tough ticket at last year's Live Arts/Philly Fringe festival. The Devon's Joseph was the last show the renovated theater in Mayfair produced in a dashed inaugural season - the only fatality among the region's theaters, which continue to thrive in the economic downturn.
Sixty-five voters - theater educators and administrators as well as artists - made the nominations announced Monday. A randomly selected eight voters were assigned to each of 145 shows, representing 49 professional theater companies.
Each voter gave points from 1 to 100 in each category. The top point-earners became the nominees. Those with the most points will be announced as the winners in October; Theatre Alliance administrators know who they are but keep the winners secret until then.
The alliance did announce one winner yesterday. Its annual special recognition award goes to veteran Philadelphia actor-director Pete Pryor, 42, who was named this year to the second class of prestigious Lunt-Fontanne fellows, after being nominated by the Wilma Theater. (He also is nominated for his supporting role in the new Bruce Graham play Any Given Monday, coproduced by Theatre Exile and Act II Playhouse.)
"For nearly two decades I have personally watched Pete grow from merely a very talented young actor into a passionate advocate for the arts and mentor for other artists, a performer who is deeply committed to his craft," wrote Blanka Zizka, co-artistic director of the Wilma.