The 2011 Normy Awards

Fifteen years and counting! (And they said it wouldn’t last.) Announcing the 15th annual Normy Awards. Begun in 1997 and dubbed the Normy in 2002 in honor of my friend and frequent theater companion Norman Ansorge, who died that year, the Award recognizes distinctive achievements by Monmouth County Community Theater companies and individuals.

In 2011, the Normy nominating committee saw 15 productions at nine different venues. From the many notable accomplishments during the year, the following were deemed worthy of the coveted-by-some Normy Award. (Remarkably, no dissension; every Award was unanimous.)

 Whodunit: The Excavation Normy.

Where does Monmouth Players dig up those obscure mystery-thriller plays? Whatever catalogue they scour, we hope they continue to do so. Where else will you see Agatha Christie other than The Mousetrap or the detective play that spawned Columbo?

This year it was Night Watch, by Lucille Fletcher, who penned the classic 1943 radio play and later movie “Sorry, Wrong Number.” So the 2011 Excavation Normy goes to producers Lori and Paul Renick, who also direct and build the sets. It’s early to predict, but if they resurrect another creaky gem in 2012, they could repeat in this category.

This show’s Special Achievement Normy (SAN) goes to set decorators Lori Renick and Liz Mahon for hanging Modigliani’s “Seated Nude” in the set’s upscale living room. Striking…and altogether appropriate.  

 The “Hook ‘Em While They’re Young” Normy

Demonstrating that Theatre by the young and for the young shall not perish from the stage, Passion Players turned six would-be actors, age 14 – 19, loose on A Little Murder Never Hurt Anybody. Under the watchful eyes of producers Debbie and Michael Schwartz, Kevin Karol, Ashley Zaccaro, John Chiarella, Jason Almerini, Fred Hadden and Lauren Keenan romped through the comic mayhem. A Little Murder is even more obscure than Night Watch, but the kids who appeared in it will likely be heard from again. (In March, a Debbie-directed, youth-cast Bye Bye Birdie goes up at the Actors Workshop on Monmouth Road, Oakhurst.)

SAN: Kevin Karol, himself a teen, directed the show. Good job, Kevin

 The “Musical Theater Is Alive and Well” Normy

And speaking of livening up a space, has any group done more to restore vim and vigor to the old Carlton Theatre than Phoenix Productions? (Gotcha, under 40s; it was the Carlton long before it was the Count Basie.) Phoenix’s recent and not-so-recent Broadway musicals are full-scale, non-skimped productions. Normy nominators saw three in 2011. Annie emphasized the adult characters as well as the orphans, which elevated the play. (And, bless them, there were only seven orphans, as the script indicates.) Hairspray was a singing and dancing treat, and Sweeney Todd was, well, a gruesome treat. So…a collective Normy to the Phoenix folks.

SAN: “Annie” includes a thrilling cameo, when Star-To-Be bursts into the “NYC” number for a brief solo spot that personifies the lure of the City for young performers. How good a Star-To-Be was Kirsten Diebold? The role might have been created for her.

Lauren J. Cooke, left, Joe Caruso and Jennifer Townsend: Normy winners for "Easy Street"


 The “Never Say Die” Normy

This refers both to prolific playwright Joe Simonelli and to the funeral parlor where Wake Me at Midnight, his 2011 offering, is set. The comedy about trying to find where a deceased uncle had hidden a winning lottery ticket is one of Simonelli’s better-written efforts. His plays have contributed to the longevity of Joe Bagnole’s First Avenue Playhouse. That alone is Normy-worthy.

SAN: The ever reliable Donna Jeanne showed she can shed real tears pretty much at will – in character, of course.

The cast of "Wake Me At Midnight"


 The Bold and the Brave

It takes guts to produce Assassins – even professionally, never mind in a small, suburban community theater. But Edison Valley Playhouse did just that – and they pulled it off. An episodic portrait of nine killers and would-be killers of U. S. Presidents, Stephen Sondheim’s “anti-musical about anti-heroes” isn’t exactly audience-easy, but Edison Valley has a rep for not playing it safe. This was the Normy nominators’ first visit; it won’t be our last. For Assassins – and whatever challenge they accept next, a Normy for EVP.

SAN: Steven C. Leshchanka’s impersonation of Lee Harvey Oswald was chilling.


The cast of "Assassins"

 The “Much Less Is Much More” Normy

Three years ago, some New York producers got the idea that Thornton Wilder’s setting for his 1938 Pulitzer-winning play Our Town was too busy. “No curtain…no scenery…an empty stage in half light,” he had decreed. So they stripped the play even further of any artifice, and the resulting production was gem-like in its clarity. Last April, Holmdel Theatre Company’s staging of that re-envisioned Our Town was a resounding success. True to both the original and the innovation, Holmdel’s truly was “an Our Town to cherish.” Everyone associated with the production – actors, tech, concession stand, whatever – can add ‘Normy winner’ to their resumes.

SAN: Director Michael Kroll for not missing a nuance.


Well, duh. What’s Normy-worthy about 20 or so nuns in a room at Red Bank Catholic High School? Considering the room was the auditorium and the nuns were characters singing the sumptuous score of The Sound of Music, it was noteworthy indeed. Directed by Anthony Jude Setaro (RBC ’98), the halls came alive with the sound of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. Normys to the faux nuns and all the ‘civilians’ in the show.

SAN: Every cast member was an RBC student, which means that Lauren Houss turned in a heck of an acting job as five-year-old Gretl.

 A NoDoz Normy for Spring Lake.

No one napped during The Drowsy Chaperone at Spring Lake Theatre in April. The show, set in the present, is essentially a re-creation of a 1928 musical as imagined by an old-show fan as he listens to a cast recording. Part mystery and part romance, the show is all spoof. The play is rich in character roles and inside show-biz jokes, and the Spring Lake folks let us in on the fun.

SAN: Derek Hulse, for beginning the play in total darkness (intended) and for communicating so well the besotted fan’s love for musical Theatre.

Standing ovations for all the winners – and keep plugging. Was every 2011 show Normy qualified? Well, um, no…but remember, without open criticism, open praise is meaningless. A look ahead into 2012 reveals productions of Lost in Yonkers, Crimes of the Heart, 1776, Plaza Suite and Legally Blonde, among many others. Speaking on behalf of the Normy Board of Director, we can’t wait.


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