Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Jul 15, 2014
11:05 AM
Stage Write

5 Takeaways from the 2014 Barties


Seriously, show us what makes a great stage kiss: Presenters Kelly Maxwell and Colin Woolston kept the crowd busting gut all evening.

Let’s just say there was a lot of love in the room at Saturday night’s fifth annual Bartell Theatre Awards fundraiser event. The Drury Stage space was pretty much packed with members of Madison’s community theater crowd and their friends, as they gathered to raucously celebrate and honor the best work to grace the space in the past year. With a red carpet, a slick production and a set of revamped award categories that were both more serious and wide-ranging than previous years, the evening had a surprisingly professional feel to it, even though both presenters and audience members went wild early and often. Presenters joked that the Barties are “the only show to give a nomination to every actor who stepped on stage,” but the bottom line is that there was plenty of great acting, directing and technical work to remember and recognize. Here are five things that resonated:

Hey, Oscar, Tony—You Taking Notes?
For all their glitz and glamor, Hollywood and Broadway’s big-budget award shows often end up feeling canned, overscripted and awkward. Bartie hosts Kelly Maxwell and Colin Woolston cracked jokes, improvised and mugged hilariously for the crowd all night without a single Adele Hazeem moment—and all without the benefit of teleprompters. An early bit about limiting thank-you speeches to fifteen seconds was accompanied by hysterical examples of a good speech and a bad speech, while the evening’s Mr. Bartie, Dave Durbin, stood ready to shame any time-limit offenders. (So, so much better than intrusive music form an orchestra.)

Admittedly, the smaller and more informal/intimate setting and the lack of commercial sponsors opens things up for the use of rampant profanity and crude humor. That’s something in which Oscar and Tony probably wish they could indulge a helluva lot more.

Trailer Park 
Throughout the evening, segues between award announcements were used to showcase the promotional trailers filmed by Rob Matsushita and his Iver Pictures crew to hype Bartell company shows. Play trailers for local theater productions may never rival the ones we see while we’re waiting for Guardians of the Galaxy to start at the local Marcus mutliplex, but they’re still a clever and creative way to market shows to new audiences. And it’s clear the actors appreciate being made to look cool on camera.  

Michael Bruno Was *Just* a Little Bit Happy
When Bruno’s name was called as best director of a musical for his work in StageQ’s Scrooge in Rouge—his first Bartie win—he became a mad kissing bandit, comically wrestling Durbin to the ground with a supersized smooch. That’s what you call unbridled enthusiasm.

Party All Over the World
Somewhere, Olivia Newton-John was smiling, and so was Steve Noll. Noll’s OutCast! Theatre/Mercury Players production of Xanadu: The Broadway Comedy Musical was the night’s clear winner, picking up a whopping nine awards, including Best Overall Production, Best Musical, Audience Favorite and actor nods for leads Kelly Maxwell, Kurtis Hopp and Dana Pellebon. It’s a haul that probably bodes well for Noll’s next musical project, Bare: the Musical--even though that one has significantly less roller skating and deals with significantly more mature themes.

Best of the Rest
Tom Haig’s Best Featured Actor in a Comedy win for his work in Madison Theater Guild’s Shorts on the 2nd Floor could have doubled as another Lifetime Achievement Award—as ever, he got another deserved standing O. 

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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