Last week, the 2009-10 nominations for the AriZoni Awards were announced. In 2010, the ariZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence celebrate their twentieth anniversary, an admirable milestone. The Zonis are a truly wonderful way to acknowledge most of the incredible theater available to all in the Valley of the Sun.
The Examiner can only wish that the endless lists of nominees for this most auspicious award were edited to the point of validity. The New York theater has two very reputable and coveted honors that stand side by side with the American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards: the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards.
The Drama Desk was founded in 1949 and began presenting its awards in 1955. It is the only critics' organization to honor achievement in the theater with competition between Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway productions in the same categories. By far, it is the most democratic of all the theater awards presented in New York.
Celebrating its sixtieth season of bestowing awards for excellence in the field of theater, the Outer Critics Circle is an organization of writers and commentators covering New York theater with members affiliated with more than ninety newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, and theater publications in America and abroad. The awards are compartmentalized into twenty-three categories, and, unlike the Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle separates Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.
The AriZoni Awards fit more closely with the Outer Critics Circle, as its nominations and awards are are separated by contract and non-contract houses, sort of a nod to the Valley's “Broadway” and “Off-Broadway” productions. Personally, The Examiner prefers the more democratic approach of the Drama Desk Awards. Theater is theater, no more, no less. The AriZoni Awards' choice of five nominees, per category, for “contract” houses is fine. Choosing ten nominees for “non-contract” houses, per category, ultimately awarding the Zoni to two of the nominated productions, is excessive and dilutes the prize.
Now for some nagging questions! How can two of the Valley's most accomplished theater companies, Arizona Theatre Company and Arizona Jewish Theatre not be among the nominees? I am certain that the decision to be excluded is the choice of the two mentioned companies. Why they would not wish to participate is perplexing? Certainly, there was no production staged this year that could compete with ATC's magnificent The Glass Menagerie. The exclusion of AJTC's staging of The Immigrant, in any form of award, seems frustrating and remiss. I really can't blame the AriZoni adjudicating process for overlooking these two superb productions. I can only ask why ATC and AJTC would choose not to have their formidable work considered by the Zonis?
Another nagging thought? The Examiner cannot understand why or how college productions are allowed to compete for the Zoni against the Valley's local and community theaters. The Examiner has no prejudice towards the admirable productions mounted by ASU Lyric Opera Theatre, Mesa Community College, Chandler/Gilbert Community College Performing Arts Department or Paradise Valley Community College. It is simply difficult to accept their competing with such reputable and established local theater companies like Stray Cat Theatre, Nearly Naked Theatre, Mesa Encore Theatre, Desert Stages Theatre, Tempe Little Theatre, Theater Works or Fountain Hills Community Theater. The Examiner does not dispute the quality of their work, it simply feels it more appropriate to grant these schools a separate category for awards, removing them from competition with established Valley theater companies. No New York theater award places the Metropolitan or the New York City Opera companies in direct competition with Broadway, Off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway. And that is as it should be!
A bit more nit-picking! In what universe would the roles of Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls be considered featured or supporting characters? Susan Hogle and Gary Caswell were more than superb in those roles in Hale Centre Theatre's Guys and Dolls and certainly deserve their nominations, no matter what, but as featured performers? No! Seriously, Faith Prince's Miss Adelaide won her Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Guys and Dolls in 1992. Nathan Lane was also nominated for the Best Actor in a musical Tony Award as Prince's Nathan Detroit. That year he won the Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Actor in a Musical, tied with Gregory Hines. Jane Krakowski's Miss Adelaide won the 2006 Best Actress in a Musical Olivier Award. This year's Tony Award winner for Best Actor in a Musical for La Cage aux Folles, Douglas Hodge, was also nominated for the Olivier as Best Actor in a Musical for his Nathan Detroit opposite Ms. Krakowski. Featured or supporting role? No longer likely!
That said, The Examiner congratulates the long list of AriZoni Award nominees and wishes them all well.