Queens theatrics earn our Kudos

Queens theatrics earn our Kudos
By Kevin Zimmerman

After a quick review of the Queens theater scene for 2013 one thing became increasingly clear: The past 12 months could be labeled the “Women of the Year.”

Whether comedy, drama or musical, the performances that stayed with you long after the curtain fell were created by a handful of actresses giving Manhattan-caliber performances.

In some cases, these women provided the strongest reason to see the show.

That’s not to say the men were totally forgettable. Some of the best performances by the guys came in supporting roles and mostly in the comedic parts.

But there are some folks who deserve recognition for providing an outstanding evening of Queens theater.

To that end, TimesLedger Newspapers is proud to present its first Queens Kudos Awards to the following:

Outstanding actress in a musical — No question Bailey Seeker in “Oliver! The Musical” at the Secret Theatre made a huge splash with her first major New York role as ill-fated Nancy in the classic 1960s show. Seeker, who graduated from New York University this past spring, became the focal point of every scene in which she appeared. The pure joy and enthusiasm for life she gave Nancy — especially in the numbers “It’s a Fine Life” and “Oom-Pah-Pah” — amplify the pending doom you know is coming her way. Seeker, who said she has wanted to play Nancy since she was 6, almost didn’t get the part. Director Lenny Banovez asked her to read for one of the smaller female roles. Seeker did, but before leaving the audition she asked if she could read for Nancy. Some actors might consider that a rookie mistake, and Banovez admits such requests usually end badly for the performer. But not in this case. Seeker nailed the part and ensured this show would be the start of something big for her.

• Outstanding supporting actress in a musical — This category proved a little tougher to judge. Several actresses created memorable performances in supporting roles. But it was Natalie DePuy as Linda in “The Wedding Singer,” also at the Secret Theatre, who ultimately won our hearts. As Linda, DePuy only appears in two scenes, but she owns both of them. As the quintessential ’80s Jersey girl, DePuy’s talent was almost as big as Linda’s hair. In an otherwise, mostly forgettable show, this actress creates several genuinely funny moments as she performs her “Dear John” letter in the song, “A Note From Linda.” While it would be easy to play the role as a cartoon character, DePuy keeps it real. Those of us who lived through the 1980s definitely remember somebody just like Linda.

• Outstanding actress in a play — They say comedy is harder than drama, and this past year Amy Rutberg in the Astoria Performing Arts Center production of “The Cottage” proved it’s easy to work hard while looking effortless. In Sandy Rustin’s original comedy, the author wanted to create a play that followed the rules and structure of a Noël Coward comedy, but provided stronger roles for the women in the cast. Rutberg walks away with the show as the young woman who wants to believe marriage equals happiness rather than just contentment, which is where she finds herself now. She plays it straight, which makes the whole thing that much funnier. Rutberg even throws in a bit of slapstick in one scene as she recites heartfelt lines hidden in the box of a window seat.

• Outstanding supporting actress in a play — Although not part of the best production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to play Queens this past year, Megan Greener in the double roles of Starveling and Cobweb in the Queens Players version earns the top nod. As a member of the performing troupe comprised of village tradesmen, led by Bottom, Greener is able to communicate joy, sorrow and shame without saying a word. But she speaks volumes through her expressive eyes and slightly exaggerated movements. Greener provides some of the show’s biggest laughs, but she is definitely in on the joke.

• Outstanding actor in a musical — One could argue that villain Bill Sykes is a supporting role, but Gregory Isaac’s performance in the Secret Theatre’s “Oliver! The Musical” is beyond memorable. As the murderous brute, Isaac doesn’t say much, but his menacing stares and violent movements are heard loud and clear. The actor also possesses a glorious singing voice that unfortunately earns little stage time. Seriously, you want to see more of this monster, which says a lot about Isaac’s talent.

• Outstanding supporting actor in a musical — Another bright moment in an otherwise forgettable show was John Wascavage’s turn as George in “The Wedding Singer.” As obviously gay bandmate George, who is dressed to match ’80s music icon Boy George, Wascavage stops the show with his genuinely funny solo “George’s Prayer.” The song, performed at a bar mitzvah, has the audience howling as Wascavage sings in Hebrew to the tune of Spandau Ballet’s “This Much is True.”

• Outstanding actor in a play — OK, so we’re going to cheat a little and present this award to the entire cast of Titan Theatre Co.’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In Lenny Banovez’s production, Ryan Lee, Gregory Isaac, Alexis Black, John Finnegan, Emily Trask, Laura Frye, Sean Hudock, Lloyd Mulvey and Matthew Foster play all the roles in a Russian roulette version of Shakespeare’s comedy. Parts were anointed at the start of each performance so throughout the run, men played many of the female characters while the women took over the masculine roles. And despite not knowing who they would be that night, each cast member presents a complete character and delivers the goods.

• Outstanding supporting actor in a play — Another highlight in the Queens Players version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was Blaine Smith as Bottom, who earns the nod in this category. Smith chewed plenty of scenery as the overly confident actor in the play within the play. But by playing bad so good, Smith pulls off a marvelous and delightful treat for the audience. It might seem like portraying a bad actor would be easy, but doing a good job at bad acting is quite the feat. Smith pulls it off with aplomb.

• Outstanding production — There’s no doubt that Titan Theatre Co.’s version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was the best production to play the borough this past year. Director Lenny Banovez proved he can just as easily handle musicals with his steampunk version of “Oliver! The Musical,” but it was his take on the Bard that earned universal praise from audiences and critics. Shakespeare’s most accessible comedy was performed at breakneck speed by a talented group of nine actors portraying all 16 roles in an interchangeable cast. During the rehearsal period, Banovez was probably the least-liked man in New York City’s theater world as his cast was required to learn the entire script. But his vision — or madness — paid off with a breezy evening of theater that leaves the audience wanting more. And we may be in luck. Banovez said he is currently in the process of negotiating the next steps to take the show across the river for a New York run.

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