In 2014 and 2015, Black theater has shined so brightly. Well, it is near time to recognize the amazing and powerful works of African-Americans in Theater, which means that it’s time for the 43rd annual AUDELCO Awards, the Vivian Robinson AUDELCO Recognition Awards for Excellence in Black theater. The awards will take place at Symphony Space, Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, Monday, Nov.16. The nominees for these prestigious honors were recently announced.
Leading the nominations is “Our Lady of Kibeho,” a Signature Theatre production, with 10 nominations: dramatic production of the year; playwright, Katori Hall; director/dramatic production, Michael Grelf; lead actress, Nneka Okafor; lead actor, Owiso Odera; supporting actress, Starla Benford; supporting actor, Brent Jennings; sound design, Matt Tierney; costume design, Emily Rebholz; and lighting design, Ben Stanton.
Coming in with nine nominations is “While I Yet Live” from Primary Stages. This incredible drama shared the powerful and difficult personal life story of Tony Award winner Billy Porter, as he showed what it was like to grow up a Black, gay young man. It is nominated in the categories of dramatic production of the year; playwright, Billy Porter; director/dramatic production, Sheryl Kaller; lead actress, S. Epatha Merkerson; supporting actress, Sheria Irving; sound design, Leon Rothenberg; costume design, Esosa; set design, James Noone; and lighting design, Kevin Adams. “While I Yet Live” was a moving production to watch and it demonstrated the inner strength that Porter possesses. I fervently hope that there is a time in the future when this production can be remounted.
Brooklyn’s own Billie Holiday Theatre has eight nominations for “Brothers From the Bottom.” The production is vying for best revival; lead actor, Wendell Pierce; supporting actress, Toccarra Cash; supporting actor, Kevin Mambo; sound design, Doug Forbes; costume design, Helen L. Simmons-Collen; set design, Felix E. Cochran; and lighting design, Joyce Liao. “Brothers From the Bottom” revealed to the audience the horrors of gentrification and the life that this practice took on in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The cast that performed in this revival definitely did the work justice.
Three productions tie with seven nominations. “Flambeaux” from the Obsidian Media Group/Braata Productions, “Carnaval” from the National Black Theatre and “Brownsville Song (b-side for Tray),” a Lincoln Center Theatre 3 production. “Flambeaux” is nominated for musical production of the year; director/musical production, Lawrence Floyd; outstanding musical director, Jeff Bolding; choreography, Juson Williams; outstanding performance in a musical-male, J. Bernard Calloway; and outstanding performance in a musical-female, Althea Alexis and Markita Prescott.
“Carnaval” is nominated for dramatic production of the year; outstanding ensemble performance; playwright, Nikkole Salter; director/dramatic production, Awoye Timpo; sound design, Eric Sluyter; costume design, Latoya Murray-Berry; and set design, Daniel Zimmerman.
“Brownsville Song (b-side for Tray)” was a stirringly poignant production that vividly depicted what can happen to a young life in the ghetto, how it can be snuffed out because a person is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Every time a young man is killed, he is not a bad kid doing the wrong thing. This production was rendered with great passion by a talented cast. The show is up for dramatic production of the year; playwright, Kimber Lee; director/dramatic production, Patricia McGregor; lead actress, Lizan Mitchell (who started the production off with one of the most incredible, touching monologues you could have ever heard); sound design, Asa Weember; set design, Andromache Chalfant; and lighting design, Jiyoun Chang.
Recognized female playwrights are definitely doing well with this year’s nominations. With six and from the Public Theatre is Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Suzan-Lori Parks with “Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2, and 3.” This riveting production is up for dramatic production of the year; playwright, Parks; director/dramatic production, Jo Bonney; lead actor, Sterling K. Brown; supporting actress, Jenny Jules; and supporting actor, Jacob Ming-Trent.
“Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical,” from AnthonyKen LLC and Sheryl L. Ralph, has five nominations for musical production of the year; director/musical production, Anthony Wayne and Kendrell Bowman; outstanding musical director, Alonzo Harris; choreography, Anastacia McCleskey; and outstanding performance in a musical-male, Anthony Wayne.
Four is the magic number for six productions up for AUDELCO’s VIV awards. “Ain’t Misbehavin’” from the Irving Street Rep and Faison Firehouse Theater is nominated for best revival; outstanding ensemble performance; director/musical production, A. Curtis Farrow; and outstanding musical director, Darius Frowner. “For the Last Time,” presented by Clement Arts and Epic Theatre Ensemble, is up for musical production of the year; outstanding performance in a musical-male, Carl Clemons-Hopkins; outstanding performance in a musical-female, Brittany Campbell and Anita Welch.
“Texas in Paris,” a York Theatre Company production, is up musical production of the year; director/musical production, Akin Babatunde; outstanding musical director, Amy Jones; and outstanding performance in a musical-female, Lillias White. “The Fortress of Solitude” from the Public Theatre is nominated for musical production of the year; director/musical production, Daniel Aukin; outstanding musical director, Kimberly Grigsby; and outstanding performance in a musical-male, Kevin Mambo. Mambo is nominated for performances in both a dramatic and musical production.
“The Tempest” from the Classical Theatre of Harlem is nominated for best revival; lead actor, Ron Cephas Jones; choreography, Byron Easley; and supporting actor, Anthony Merchant. “A Band of Angels,” an uplifting production from the New York City Children’s Theatre, is nominated for musical production of the year; director/musical production, Colman Domingo; and outstanding ensemble performance and outstanding musical director, Kristen Rosenfeld.
“Tamburlane, Parts 1 and II” from Theatre for a New Audience has three nominations for lead actor, John Douglas Thompson; supporting actress, Patrice Johnson Chevannes; and supporting actor, Chukwudi Iwuji. Another production with three nominations is “The Glass Menagerie,” from Masterworks Theatre Company. It is nominated for best revival; supporting actor, Richard Prioleau; and supporting actress, Olivia Washington (who made her New York stage debut and was quite impressive).
Two nominations are going to “Kings of Harlem” from Layon Gray American Theatre Co.: outstanding ensemble performance and choreography, Layon Gray. “Dutchman,” a New Federal Theatre production is nominated for best revival and lighting design, Antoinette Tynes. “Pitbulls” from the Rattlesnake Playwrights Theatre is up for lead actress, Yvette Ganier, and lead actor, Billy Eugene Jones.
In the solo performance category, numerous actors received a nomination, including Keith Hamilton Cobb for “American Moor” from the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, Dael Orlandersmith for “Forever” by the New York Theatre Workshop, J. Alphonse Nicholson for “Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green,” from StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance and New Dog Theatre Company, Rain Pryor for “Fried Chicken and Latkes” from the National Black Theatre and Phil Darius Wallace for “Self Made Man: The Frederick Douglass Story” from Derek Yip and Nikita Productions.
Several productions are nominated in one category. “Rasheeda Speaking” from the New Group has a nomination in the lead actress category for Tonya Pinkins. “R+J: An Uncivil Tale” from Rebel Theatre Co. is up for choreography, Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj. “Most Dangerous Man in America (W.E.B. DuBois)” from the New Federal Theatre is up for costume design, Gail Cooper-Hecht. “Fences” from the Morningside Players is up for best revival. “Dancing on Eggshells” from the Billie Holiday Theatre is nominated for choreography, Traci Tolmaire. “Black Wall Street” from Shades of Truth Theatre and Voza Rivers New Heritage Theatre Group is nominated for set design, Chris Cumberbatch.
In addition to the nominations for these productions, AUDELCO will also be presenting awards. Pioneer Awards will go to Bernard March, Sandra Reeves Phillips and Rudolph Shaw. Board of Directors Awards will be presented to Darlene Gidney, Toni Peterson and Leon Pinkney. A Special Achievement Award will go to BAYO and Nia Productions (Les Ford), and I must humbly state that I will be receiving a special Lifetime Achievement Award for my 30 years and counting as a theater critic.
Honorary co-chairs for this year’s event are Ralph Carter, Erich McMillan-McCall and Petronia Paley. Honorary co-hosts are Kenny Seymour and Alyson Williams. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.audelco.net.