Update: And the Henrys go to...

The winning ensemble in Red.
Sitting beside me at the Henrys last night was the woman who makes it all happen: Gloria Shanstrom, general manager of the Colorado Theatre Guild. It is Shanstrom who makes this glittering event -- this huge coming together of elegantly dressed, excitedly-gesticulating actors, directors, tech people and their audiences -- actually happen. Shanstrom deals with the logistical problems all year long: how do you find six Henry judges to visit all the eligible shows in the metro area and get them to turn in their ballots? Oversee tabulation? Field complaints from those who didn't get nominated? Make sure the actual event (at the L2 Arts and Culture Center this year) runs smoothly? Shanstrom watched as the evening unfolded, periodically tensing, laughing, relaxing back into her seat, and tearing up -- and at one point I heard her murmur, "Oh, I wish all the nominees could win."

I didn't.

We critics are an egotistical lot, and deep in our hearts we believe our own judgments to be far more valid than anyone else's. Which isn't to say we don't listen to peers, friends and fellow audience members. Or that we're not sometimes moved by them to examine our ideas and prejudices a little more deeply. Still, the Henry Awards -- in which each critic's grades are melded with dozens of others from other knowledgeable judges and the final results are purely numerical -- are a bit of an ordeal. We're not just sad when our favorite actors or productions get slighted in the nominating process (and sometimes the difference between being nominated and not being nominated is a matter of the tiniest point spread), we're downright indignant.

There's no argument with this year's winners. All of them are intensely worthy. Well, okay, I do have one argument...

I loved Curious Theater Company's Red. Raved about it in print and recommended it to all my friends. But how could this two-character play win a Henry for best ensemble? Ensemble -- as I understand the word -- has to do with a group of performers bringing disparate elements into harmonious cohesion, working together with such fluidity and skill that the rhythms are perfect and the result more resonant and compelling than the sum of the parts. It's a wide-open definition that can encompass a musical with a huge cast or a small experimental piece. The Buntport actors, who have been creating scripts and performing together forever, could win this award hands down every single year. Equally worthy would be a meticulously directed musical. Or just about anything from Phamaly, a company in which people with every kind of physical disability -- and their directors -- find astonishing ways of working together, with the sighted literally leading the blind, those in wheelchairs reliant on those with working lower limbs, and a pervasive spirit of gentleness and cooperation that touches everyone who sees their work. Both the actors in Red -- Larry Hecht and Benjamin Bonenfant -- were fantastic, but would you describe a musical group comprised of a flautist and a pianist as an ensemble? I wouldn't.

No argument, however, about the Henrys that Red scooped up for best production: outstanding direction by Christy Montour-Larson and best supporting actor for Benjamin Bonenfant's beautiful interpretation of an awestruck young artist in the presence of the master, Rothko.

It was also a great pleasure to see a young actor who's even newer on the Denver scene than Bonenfant receive his due: Sean Scrutchins, for his brain-searing performance as a veteran guilty of war crimes in Curious's brilliant Nine Circles. And since Lise Bruneau's ironic Hesione was the high point of the Denver Center's Heartbreak House, how nice to see her rewarded with best lead actress.

Nick Sugar was ebulliant, bouncing onto the stage for his wins for direction and choreography. Erin Rollman of Buntport--one of the town's most gifted clowns--glittered glamorously in black and silver as she and Brian Colonna emceed together for the last time (Steven Burge and GerRee Hinshaw will take over the task next year). Rollman tied for outstanding supporting actress with Hannah Duggan for her irrepressible, opinionated-yet-vulnerable waitress in Tommy Lee Jones Goes to the Opera Alone. And though I loved Samuel D. Hunter's wonderfully smart and understated The Whale, it was thrilling to see Tommy Lee Jones -- one of Buntport's most brilliant offerings ever -- named best new play.

Several special awards were given, including one to John Moore for journalistic excellence in the arts, which brought the audience to its feet. Moore, who retired as the Denver Post theater critic last year, still serves as a Henry judge, and his blog musings on theater can be found on his website.

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