‘Piano Lesson’ leads AUDELCO Awards!

Linda Armstrong | 12/5/2013, 5:13 p.m.

Have you ever had an evening when all the stars seemed to align in the sky and everything was right with the world? An evening when everyone who deserved to be recognized for their brilliant works received their just reward? Well, that is what happened on a recent Monday night at Symphony Space on Broadway and 95th Street as the 41st annual Vivian Robinson/AUDELCO Recognition (“VIV”) Awards for Excellence in Black Theater took place.

Signature Theater left its mark on the ceremony, as it received eight well-earned VIV Awards in the distinguished categories of Best Revival; Best Director/Dramatic Production, Ruben Santiago-Hudson; Best Lead Actress, Roslyn Ruff; Best Lead Actor, Brandon J. Dirden; Best Supporting Actor, Chuck Cooper; Best Costume Design, Karen Perry; Best Set Design, Michael Camahan; and Best Lighting Design, Rui Rita. The stage was set as the production won the first three awards for lighting, set and costume design right off the bat.

Having an August Wilson play overrun the AUDELCO Awards is a marvelous event, especially when the direction by Santiago-Hudson gave a clear message to the audience that we were experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime cast, delivering a mesmerizing, phenomenal performance. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been blessed enough to get the opportunity to see this piece, and especially the cast that delivered it.

It is no mystery to me that it received each of the VIV Awards that it garnered. This production did something to me that no play has ever done in 30 years of my being a theater critic—it left me unable to speak. As everyone around me gathered to their feet and shouted, “Bravo!” I was so overcome with the depth and beauty of what I had just experienced, I couldn’t open my mouth to speak. All I could do was stand and clap as loudly as possible and for a long time, along with everyone else in the audience. Each actor who took to the stage captivated the audience, and by intermission you were anxious to see what would happen next.

Signature Theater’s production of “The Piano Lesson” definitely did what theater is supposed to do—it completely took you out of your world and brought you into the amazing mind of Wilson and a place full of Black culture, traditions and beliefs. With every award that “The Piano Lesson” received, the stars were aligning in the sky. It was the right thing to happen. Though I couldn’t speak at the production, let me say it now: “Bravo!” to everyone connected with “The Piano Lesson,” and congratulations.

There were only a few productions that were winners at the VIV Awards, and again, they deserved their rewards. “Dreamgirls,” done by the Harlem Repertory Theater, won Musical Production of the Year; Best Director/Musical Production, Keith Lee Grant; Best Choreography, Grant; Outstanding Musical Director, Ryan Touhey; and lastly Outstanding Performance in a Musical/Female, Dion Millington.

Colman Domingo was truly “Wild and Happy” as his play “Wild With Happy,” which was done by the Public Theater, won Dramatic Production of the Year; Best Playwright, Domingo; and Best Supporting Actress, Sharon Washington. Domingo definitely should have received the honors that were bestowed upon him. This production was deeply touching to watch. It clearly pointed out the creative gifts that Domingo has as both a playwright and actor. That’s why it’s so extraordinary that the AUDELCO Awards are there acknowledging the best in Black theater. I love the fact that we acknowledge what others chose to ignore.