Seventh Heaven

Newcomers gain more ground with nominations aplenty for the seventh annual SALT Awards competition.






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Publication: Syracuse New Times
Author: MacKillop, James
Date published: February 24, 2010

It's not the same old faces at this year's nominations for the Syracuse New Times Syracuse Area Live Theater (SALT) Awards. Consider the internationally known director Patdro Harris, up for Crowns at Syracuse Stage. Or Emily Skinner, cited for Dirty Blonde at Ithaca's Hangar Theatre. Once nominated for a Tony, Skinner is the first performer ever to use Broadway glory as a stepping stone to a SALT nomination.

Closer to home there's a cresting wave of all new names: Theresa Constantine for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Erin Race for Bash, Susan Blumer for James Joyce's The Dead, Jimmy Curtin for Ruthless! The Musical, Jillian Dailey for My Name is Rachel Corrie and Alex Gherardi, Dan Williams, Danielle Nash and Carmen Viviano-Crafts for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The Talent Company's 2009 gamble on very young performers paid off with four citations: Maria Pedro, Tim Quartier and Chad Healy for West Side Story and Julia Goodwin, the youngest nominee ever, for Ruthless! It's not just the odds but the numbers. Some of the first-timers have to win.

In two categories, all the nominees are first-timers. For Leading Actress in a Community Theater Musical: Aubry Ludington Panek in The Dead, Julia Berger and Julia Goodwin in Ruthless!, Danielle Nash in Spelling Bee and Brandi Ozark Weston in White Christmas. So too for Supporting Actor in a Play: Wil Szczech, Phil Davoli and Josh Canfield, all in The Pillowman, and Keegan Lounsberry in Werewolf.

This does not mean perennial favorites have been shunned. For community musicals and dramas the leading contenders for Best Director are John Nara, Dan Tursi and David R. Witanowski, although Garrett Heater, director of Simply New's Talking With. . . , elbowed his way into the Best Play category.

Previous winners Kevin McNamara, Dana Sovocool, Lorraine Grande, Shannon Tompkins, Christine Lightcap, Michael O'Neill, Navroz Dabu, Karen Procopio and Josh Smith are up again, as is Michael Spinoso for Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a role for which he owns the franchise. Two SALT Academy favorites enjoy multiple nominations. Binaifer Dabu is cited for a leading role in Talking With. . . , and twice for supporting roles, in Lend Me a Tenor and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, meaning she has to compete against herself in that category. Bill Molesky is up for the lead in Trumbo and as supporting actor in The Dead.

Heartening in this year's nominations is the recognition given to performers long on the scene, much admired for work they did before the launching of the SALT Awards. These would include Brandi Ozark Weston and Gary Troy for White Christmas, Aubry Ludington Panek for The Dead, Shaun Forster in Mid-Life!: The Crisis Musical and J. Brazill for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

An encouraging sign for the vitality in local theater culture is the strong competition for Best Original New Production, several of which were genuine box-office successes. These are Lauren Unbekant's Woman in a Blue Dress with leading lady Kathleen Wrinn up for Best Actress, Len Fonte's Werewolf with Keegan Lounsberry nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Mark Cole's An Evening with Alan and Lawrence and Kyle Bass' Spoons.

Stalwarts who are there when a director needs them but are not always given the merit they deserve are up for awards. These are Anne Fitzgerald for Poor Superman, Joe Pierce for The Dead and Rosemary Palladino-Leone for Talking With. . . .

SALT Academy members are still paying close attention to out-of-town companies. Ithaca's year-round professional troupe, the 73-seat Kitchen Theatre Company, is recognized twice. Its deconstructionist comedy Gutenberg: The Musical is competing with Syracuse Stage offerings for Best Professional Production, with longtime artistic director Rachel Lampert also nominated for Best Director along with a crew from 820 E. Genesee St. Nominations are distributed fairly evenly among the three summer companies, Auburn's Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, Ithaca's Hangar Theatre and Cortland Repertory Theatre. But Cortland Rep, the smallest of the three, snagged three out of four slots for Best Actor, with Dominic Varney for Damn Yankees, Brian Runbeck for Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and Dustin Charles for Unnecessary Farce.

Runbeck's nomination, along with the Gross Indecency nod, are also interesting as they puncture the urban legend that Syracuse New Times coverage has an undue influence on Academy voting. Both Runbeck's performance and the show were panned in these pages, perhaps unjustly. This never stopped SALT voters from making up their own minds about them.

The Syracuse New Times SALT Awards will be presented on Sunday, April 25, 7 p.m., at Eastwood's Palace Theatre, 2384 James St. The theater's lobby will hold a reception from 5 to 6:45 p.m., as well as an after-party at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 at the door or $20 by mail using check or credit card to: New Times SALT Tickets, 1415 W. Genesee St., Syracuse 13204. For information, call 422-7011, Ext. 125.

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