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Four Productions – Two Plays, Two Musicals – Grab the Lion's Share of O.C. Theatre Guild Awards

Updated: 7 hours ago

Curtis Theatre’s ‘Gentleman’s Guide…,’ Costa Mesa Playhouse’s ‘Clybourne Park’ and Chance’s ‘Ride the Cyclone’ and ‘Curious Incident…’ are the big winners.


The ensemble of "A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder" and Jon Gaw, left, co-produced by the Curtis Theatre and South Gate Productions. The show won seven awards at the 2024 OCTG Theatre Awards on Monday night. Photo courtesy of OC Theater Guild/Francis Gacad
 

You can never say the outcome of any awards program is predictable, but the odds always favor any production with multiple nominations. The more nods you get, the more likely you’ll wind up a winner.


That maxim seemed to hold water at the O.C. Theatre Guild’s third annual awards ceremony, held Monday night, May 13 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Samueli Theater.

 

The evening produced 24 awards (two award recipients apiece for each performance category) culled from 20 categories that spanned a total of 116 nominations.


Of the 48 productions whose various aspects were nominated, four received the lion’s share of the evening’s wins: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” (seven), “Clybourne Park” (five), “Ride the Cyclone” (four) and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” (four).

 

Those nominated: productions, actors, directors, playwrights, choreographers, music directors and designers, as well as an “outstanding achievement” category for those specializing in areas that might not otherwise receive recognition.

 

Two new categories were added: Properties Design and New Play. The latter were original scripts created or commissioned by OCTG member theater companies.


Costa Mesa Playhouse's "Clybourne Park" won five awards at the 2024 OCTG Theatre Awards on Monday night. In the production, from left: Mia Josimovic, Ja'lil Nelson and Taj Young. Photo courtesy of Costa Mesa Playhouse/Kerrin Piché Serna
Big winners also had bulk of the nominations

 

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” was the evening’s biggest winner, capturing seven awards. The 2012 show, a co-production of Curtis Theatre and South Gate Productions, had 13 nominations in all, the most of any show.

 

The large-scale musical’s five major awards: Outstanding Ensemble, Direction (for Jonathan Infante and Tara Pitt), Music Direction (for Stephen Hulsey), and Lead Performance in a Musical (Paul Zelhart and Chris Russo).

 

Nearly as dominant was Costa Mesa Playhouse’s production of “Clybourne Park,” the 2010 Bruce Norris drama that portrays fictional events set both during and years after those of the Lorraine Hansberry play “A Raisin in the Sun.”


Shelly Day and the members of the ensemble of "Clybourne Park," produced by Costa Mesa Playhouse. Photo courtesy of OCTG/Francis Gacad

Of its 12 nominations, “Clybourne” won in five categories, including Outstanding Production of a Play, Ensemble of a Play and Lead Performance in a Play (Cody Hanify).

 

“Clybourne” started off with a bang, capturing the first two awards of the evening. Taj Young and Peter Hilton each won Outstanding Supporting Performance of a Play, one of the four performance categories which have two recipients.


The production lost out on its next three nominations until Hanify’s win, after which it went two for three with the major awards for ensemble and production of a (non-musical) play.

 

After “Clybourne Park” received its final award of the evening, Outstanding Production of a Play, Michael Serna, the show’s director and scenic designer, told the audience he was “so proud to present this wonderful gem of a play and to work with such wonderful actors and behind-the-scenes people. This award was a very special conclusion to our journey.”


Chance Theater started out the evening with the highest number of nominations with 32, all but two of which were for the 2008 musical “Ride the Cyclone” and the dramas “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and “Matinicus: The Story of Abigail Burgess.”

 

“Ride the Cyclone” had four wins out of its 15 nominations. The first two, for Em Flosi and Wyatt Hatfield for Supporting Performance in a Musical, came early in the evening, followed by Antonio Beach and Bradley Kaye’s joint win for Scenic Design and Nick Santiago’s for Projection Design.

 

“Curious Incident” snagged a much higher percentage of wins – four out of its nine nominations, with Darryl B. Hovis winning Direction of a Play and Sound Design, Aaron Lipp capturing Lead Performance in a Play, and Andrea Heilman touted for Lighting Design.


In accepting his award for directing “Curious Incident,” Hovis said the 2012 drama depicts “the messy nature of humanity.” Lipp related to the audience that he himself is on the spectrum, noting the significance in portraying a character so much like himself.


“I love this show to death,” he said from the stage, “and to bring it to those on the spectrum every night was an honor.” Hovis later told the audience “we were so lucky to find Aaron, someone who identified with the story.”


Of its six nominations, “Matinicus” snagged one award, for playwright Jenny Connell Davis in the New Play category. By contrast, “Cyclone” and “Curious” were nearly as dominant as “Gentleman’s Guide” and “Clybourne.”


Upon receiving her award, Davis said the play “is all about the solitude and especially the loneliness of lighthouse keepers, themes that connected with audiences during the pandemic.”


The four dominant productions – “Gentleman’s Guide,” “Clybourne Park,” “Cyclone” and “Curious Incident” – accounted for nearly half the total of nominations, with 49 in all. In terms of the total number of awards handed out, though, the quartet of shows nearly swept the awards, capturing 20 of the 24.


The production team of "Nevermore" and Shinshin Tsai. The show by Ophelia’s Jump Productions of Upland won the evening's award for Outstanding Production of a Musical. Photo courtesy of OCTG/Francis Gacad

New kid on the block has huge showing

 

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was “Nevermore,” a musical by Upland-based Ophelia’s Jump Productions, a new OCTG member theater company that cracked through the glass floor with two wins out of five nominations.


(In case you were wondering, the guild accepts member theaters from the greater Orange County area, including locales like Upland, Whittier and Long Beach.)


At the top of the ceremony, after four awards in the two supporting acting categories, “Nevermore” captured the fifth award of the night for Michael Mullen’s costume design.

 

The show lost out in two design categories (projection and puppets), then lost to “Gentleman’s Guide” when that show captured its seventh award of the night in the category Ensemble of a Musical.

 

“Guide” thus seemed poised to receive the final award of the evening, Outstanding Production of a Musical – but “Nevermore” got the upset, beating out both “Guide” and another heavy hitter, “Ride the Cyclone.”


Upon this late-evening upset, Beatrice Casagran, Ophelia’s founding artistic director, burst with elation, taking the mike and excitedly shouting “This is impossible! You guys! Thank you so much! Thank you for letting us be part of this amazing community.”


American Coast Theater Company’s production of “Forever Plaid” had seven nominations in five categories, with Hannah Simmons and Susan K. Berkompas winning for their choreography.

 

That award and the two for “Nevermore” were the evening’s only awards that didn’t wind up in the hands of either Curtis Theatre, Costa Mesa Playhouse or Chance Theater.

 

Coming up empty

The Wayward Artist, a little theater company that can, was showered with love by guild voters, with 22 nominations distributed over multiple productions, including “Avenue Q,” “In The Green,” “Rotterdam,” “Yellow Face” and an original world premiere, “Pirates vs. Leprechauns” – yet the company was shut out, seemingly unable to withstand juggernaut dramas “Clybourne Park” and “Curious Incident” and musicals “Gentleman’s Guide” and “Cyclone.”

 

Wayward’s impressive total of 22 noms, second only to Chance, was the exception to the general rule that the more nods racked up, the greater the likelihood of awards winding up in the hands of productions and individual artists.

 

No Square Theatre and Maverick Theater, each with six nominations, were, like Wayward, among those theater companies recognized for their work and artistry but not on the receiving end of awards.

 

A dominant 2023 winner for “The Crucible,” Maverick submitted the ever-popular cult musical “The Rocky Horror Show” (noms for Production of a Musical, choreography and costume design) and the stage version of Stephen King’s “Misery” (up for scenic, lighting and sound design), but came up empty-handed.

 

Curtis Theatre teamed with the production company Begins and Ends with A Productions for “The Revolutionists,” with no victories to show for its three noms. With one nom apiece, productions like Chance’s “The Secret Garden” and Cabrillo Playhouse’s “Pirates of Penzance” faced seemingly insurmountable odds.

 

American Coast had less success with “Around the World in 80 Days” – two nods, no wins – than with “Plaid,” and, likewise, Costa Mesa’s “Sense and Sensibility” (two nominations) and “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” (one nom) came up dry in comparison with “Clybourne.”

 

Brooke Aston Harper, left, was the host of the OCTG Theatre Awards. Harper is pictured here with Kristofer Kataokai. Photo courtesy of OCTG/Steve Leiken
Awards show a slick, well-produced affair

After two consecutive years of holding its awards ceremony, OCTG appears to have crafted a viable formula that, with this and last year’s events, has been rigorously adhered to.

 

It’s a professional, slickly produced evening that rightly allows the organization to define itself as Orange County’s version of the Tony Awards – or, perhaps more accurately, something akin to the annual Oscars telecast.

 

That includes the presence of a smooth-talking host, Brooke Aston Harper, and musical director and on-stage pianist Kim Le, both returning from 2023.

 

OCTG, like the famed musical numbers of the Academy Awards programs, featured performances from four of the musicals that had garnered multiple nominations.

 

The finale from “Gentleman’s Guide,” with the show’s gargantuan cast of 15, and “The Ballad of Jane Doe,” with four performers from “Ride the Cyclone,” bracketed six “Nevermore” actors singing “We Are the Family Poe” and the four “Forever Plaid” actors portraying the quartet The Plaids in “Gotta Be This or That.”

 

Production of the awards ceremony itself requires a fairly sizable cadre of directors, managers and staff. As director, Shinshin Tsai headed the team that included a stage manager (Bebe Herrera), projection designer (Ariya Selvakumar) and board operator (Loren Morris) plus three photographers and 10 volunteers. Throughout the night, all received ample thanks from OCTG’s board president Amanda DeMaio, host Harper and others.

 

Tsai was one of the army of presenters, most of whom were either 2024 nominees or winners from last year. South Coast Repertory, touted by Harper as “a cornerstone of theater” in O.C. since 1964, sent Rob Salas, its artistic coordinator and an officer of OCTG's board of directors, to Samueli Theater to present the award for Direction of a Play. 



OCTG Theatre Award attendees, all listed from left: PHOTO 1: Oanh Nguyen, Jenny Connell Davis and Nichols Thurkettle. PHOTO 2: Kristin Campbell Coyne, Susan Gonzales, Laarnie Barcelon and Katie Chidester. PHOTO 3: Austin Nation and Beatrice Casagran. PHOTO 4: Christopher Spencer, Kerri Hellmuth and Kalinda Gray. PHOTO 5: Nick Santiago and Matt Caballero. PHOTO 6: Ron Hasting and Em Flosi. PHOTO 7: The audience gathering at top of the evening. Photos courtesy of OCTG/Francis Gacad and Steve Leiken


Taking care of business

As in previous years, routine yet vital guild business was detailed from the stage by those whose presence and ongoing work keep things running.

 

OCTG's DeMaio described the “unique, peer-based adjudication process” through which the awards are culled, noting that this year, 15 theater companies that are guild members submitted nominations for a total of 48 productions.

 

Kristin Campbell and Katie Chidester, who manage the awards program, delineated the voting process and how it works, pointing out that guild members who vote (there were 60 this time around) receive training to be able to carry out their duties. Campbell is board vice president and a theater artist and Chidester is a board officer and founding artistic director of Project LaFemme.


Dedication to a tirelessly dedicated O.C. theater individual

Wade Williamson. Photo courtesy of OCTG

This year’s program and ceremony were dedicated to Wade Williamson, who passed in January at age 58. During most of Vanguard Theatre Ensemble’s existence, Williamson was its artistic director, and after the Fullerton company closed its doors, he tirelessly volunteered at companies like Stages Theatre and Chance Theater.


From the stage and in text from the inside front cover of the print program, DeMaio said Williamson served on the OCTG board “from day one, and we are here tonight because of his unwavering support and selfless contributions, not just to this organization, but to so many others, over decades, in Orange County. His passion and enthusiasm for anything ‘theater’ knew no bounds.”


From the podium, DeMaio said Williamson’s five years working with OCTG amounted to being “a testament to theater,” and Williamson’s name was evoked throughout the evening by various award winners and presenters.


 

2024 OCTG Theatre Award Recipients

Outstanding Production of a Play

Clybourne Park, Costa Mesa Playhouse


Outstanding Production of a Musical

Nevermore, Ophelia’s Jump Productions


Outstanding Direction of a Play

Darryl B. Hovis, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Chance Theater


Outstanding Direction of a Musical

Jonathan Infante & Tara Pitt, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Curtis Theatre

 

Outstanding New Play

Jenny Connell Davis, Matinicus: The Story of Abigail Burgess, Chance Theater, Playwright


Outstanding Ensemble of a Play

Clybourne Park, Costa Mesa Playhouse


Outstanding Ensemble of a Musical 

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Curtis Theatre

 

Outstanding Lead Performance in Play (two recipients)

Aaron Lipp, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Chance Theater

Cody Hanify, Clybourne Park, Costa Mesa Playhouse

 

Outstanding Lead Performance in a Musical (two recipients)

Chris Russo, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Curtis Theatre

Paul Zelhart, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Curtis Theatre

 

Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Play (two recipients)

Peter Hilton, Clybourne Park, Costa Mesa Playhouse

Taj Young, Clybourne Park,Costa Mesa Playhouse


Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Musical (two recipients)

Em Flosi, Ride the Cyclone, Chance Theater

Wyatt Hatfield, Ride the Cyclone, Chance Theater


Outstanding Scenic Design

Antonio Beach & Bradley Kaye, Ride the Cyclone, Chance Theater

 

Outstanding Costume Design

Michael Mullen, Nevermore, Ophelia’s Jump Productions

 

Outstanding Lighting Design

Andrea Heilman, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Chance Theater

 

Outstanding Sound Design

Darryl B. Hovis, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Chance Theater

 

Outstanding Choreography

Hannah Simmons & Susan K. Berkompas, Forever Plaid, American Coast Theater Company

 

Outstanding Music Direction

Stephen Hulsey, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Curtis Theatre


Outstanding Projection Design

Nick Santiago, Ride the Cyclone, Chance Theater


Outstanding Wig Design

Susan Gonzales & Laarnie Barcelon, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Curtis Theatre


Outstanding Properties Design

Kerri Hellmuth & Cari Noel, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Curtis Theatre


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