The Barrymore Award nominations are out: They're a big deal, a reminder of what a rich, diverse theater season we've had.
At 4 p.m. Monday on stage at the Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, Theatre Philadelphia announced its nominations for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theater for the 2016-17 season. Often called "the Tonys of Philadelphia," the Barrymores are the height of the Philly theater year.
Among nonmusical productions, the Wilma's apocalyptic drama When the Rain Stops Falling led with 11 nominations, including a very unusual three for best supporting actress in a play, for Nancy Boykin, Taysha Canales, and Melanie Finister. The Mountaintop (People's Light) had seven nominations. How to Use a Knife (InterAct) and The Seagull (EgoPo) had six. Aaron Posner's Stupid F-ing Bird, the Arden's funny play with the indelicate name, got four.
Among musicals, Arden killed it. Its launch of Gypsy led with 10 nominations, and its Light Princess got eight, with the ever-popular, riveting A Year with Frog and Toad gobbling up six.
Nominations range widely among themes, styles, approaches, and even neighborhoods, which tells you a lot about Philly theater.
Classics such as Chekhov's The Seagull at EgoPo and Gypsy at the Arden share bows with experimental theater such as Orbiter 3's Peaceable Kingdom and Wilma's When the Rain Stops Falling. Production numbers like Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope at the New Freedom Theatre are honored along with one-actor masterpieces like Grounded at InterAct Theatre.
Big, established companies share kudos with the storefront neighborhood theaters so characteristic of the Philly scene. You see outfits in Center City and outfits in Malvern (People's Light), Norristown (Theatre Horizon), and Hammonton, N.J. (Eagle Theatre), some here a long time (the Arden) and some folks who just got here, notably the Resident Theatre Company over in West Chester, whose lively rendition of Monty Python's Spamalot earned four nominations.
Repeating names also say much about the theater world here, where well-trained, all-around theater people don multiple hats from show to show.
Hardworking, much-in-demand Alex Bechtel was tapped five times: for outstanding lead actor in a musical (as Prince/Witch in The Light Princess), outstanding original music (twice, for Light Princess and People's Light's Sleeping Beauty), outstanding music direction (again, Light Princess), and outstanding new play/musical (with Anthony Lawton, The Light Princess).
Steve Pacek got three nominations, for outstanding direction of a musical (Light Princess), outstanding supporting actor in a musical (as Bird, Lizard, Snail, Mole, and Father Frog in A Year with Frog and Toad), and outstanding lead actor in a musical (as Gordon Michael Schwinn in Theatre Horizon's A New Brain).
And Mary Tuomanen was in there three times: twice as a playwright for the Independence Foundation Award for outstanding new play/musical, for Marcus/Emma at InterAct and Peaceable Kingdom at Orbiter 3; and also for the prestigious F. Otto Haas Award for an emerging Philadelphia theater artist.
We know one winner: The lifetime achievement award goes deservedly to Penelope Reed, director emeritus of Hedgerow Theatre Company, for contributions to the theater community.
Ten weeks of waiting now begin until the other winners are announced at the Barrymore awards gala, scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Merriam Theater and followed by an after-party at Dorrance Hamilton Hall at the University of the Arts. Tickets for the ceremony and after-party go on sale at noon Aug. 28. (Information: 215-893-1999 or theatrephiladelphia.org.)
The awards season now being recognized ran from July 1, 2016, to June 30 of this year. Theatre Philadelphia, which since 2012 has administered the awards, sent out 60 nominators, each of whom saw 10 to 12 plays. A dozen judges received their reports and saw 60 or more shows apiece.
Besides curating the awards, Theatre Philadelphia helps funnel $75,500 of foundation and grant money to artists and foundations.
June and Steve Wolfson Award for an Evolving Theatre Company