Henry Awards have yet to come up with a winning system
The Colorado Theatre Guild's Henry Awards, which were presented last night, have been growing in stature, professionalism and efficiency in some ways for quite a while -- but this has come at a cost. The awards used to be judged by around a dozen professional theater critics, and because those critics -- myself included -- lived and worked in the Denver area, productions by guild members in other parts of the state tended to go unrecognized. So over the last three years, a huge effort was made to overcome this problem and judges were found outside the metro area. The result: a panel of 48 judges (again, I'm one of them -- and my Westword reviews are linked below), six of whom had to see and fill out a ballot for each eligible production. Winners were decided by the numbers on the ballots. Problem solved.
Michael Ensminger Cajardo Lindsey and Laurence Curry in The Whipping Man, a big winner for Curious.
Except that with so many people voting, so few judges seeing most productions and the difficulties of defining criteria for necessary comparisons, the results (below) seem pretty random. and some are downright inexplicable.
The state, and in particular the metro area, has a rich and varied theater scene that includes huge musicals and two-person shows, theaters located in strip malls and in warehouses, experimentation and ferment, new and old work -- and you'd never guess at this wealth of talent and excitement from these awards. Look to the Henrys for guidance on where to spend your entertainment dollar and you'll generally hear about work that's relatively safe and mounted by established companies.
Jennifer M. Koskinen Jim Ferris in Animal Crackers at the Denver Center Theatre Company.
You'll be missing a hell of a lot of everything else.
The rewards cluster oddly, and for the most part, the big winners are well-funded institutions. The Denver Center Theatre Company won multiple awards for the amusing musical Animal Crackers and also The Legend of Georgia McBride, developed through its New Play program. The company also won the very top award: Outstanding Season for a Company. The Arvada Center took home three Henrys for musicals. The Tier 2 Aurora Fox walked away with four: a big nod to Karen Slack as best actress in Painted Bread, along with awards for lighting, scene and sound design.
Then there's the curious case of Curious Theatre Company, a midsize Equity company that deserves all the accolades it gets -- and more. But though The Whipping Man was a terrific production of an important, explosive and mind-bending script, it's hard to understand why it edged out almost every other worthwhile drama in a year of strong dramatic productions -- including a couple more mounted by Curious itself. The Whipping Man won seven Henrys: best direction, lead actor, supporting actor, lighting, scene design, best ensemble (quite a trick for a three-character work) and the big one -- outstanding production of a play. Which meant not a crumb left on the table for, say, the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, which had a brilliant season that included an original work The Sun Stood Still, the beautifully-acted two-hander Annapurna and a set of killer performances in a clever new play called This.
Of the smaller metro area companies, only the Edge Theater snared a major -- and well-deserved -- award for Emma Messenger's fine performance in The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Lakewood's Performance Now Theatre Company got a nod for choreography.
Has the broadened judging pool meant more recognition for deserving out-of-towners? Not so much. Breckenridge did secure one of the top prizes: Best Direction of a Musical for I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, and OpenStage Theatre in Fort Collins got a look-in for costume design. Grand Lake's Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre received a special award for best regional
Obviously, the Henrys are selective and the awards can't include all excellent comers. But it's troubling that there's not a breath here about, say, the Catamounts, the lively newish Boulder company that's mounting literate and fascinating productions with a pronounced Chicago flavor. Not an eyelash flicker for Boulder's Dinner Theatre, which employs terrific musical and performing talent in the service of some of the liveliest musical shows around. No recognition for the wondrous Phamaly, made up of physically handicapped actors. No Henry for the Lone Tree Arts Center's lovely, surprising Sylvia or the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was packed with star-quality talent.
Well, there's always next year.
Keep reading for the winners of the Colorado Theatre Guild's Henry Awards