Before getting to the annual awards for the best in Valley theater, let’s bow our heads in a moment of silence for all of the truly bad productions that came and went across our stages this past year.
Many of them died on impact from too much hype.
Actors Theatre’s “The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?,” directed by the respected off-Broadway icon Marshall Mason, was an utter failure — a cheap and deflating staging of one of Albee’s finest dramas.
Bob Sorenson and Jon Gentry, two of the Valley’s comedy titans, joined forces at Arizona Jewish Theatre Company for what resulted in an adapted “Odd Couple” where the only odd thing was how unfunny it was.
Let’s not even get started on Wes Martin’s season-opening “Macbeth,” that gothic-styled stinker, for The Shakespeare Theatre. Or any of the other flops, for that matter. Better to thank, for once, the ethereal nature of live theater and move on.
In a season of big artistic flops and fizzling middling (even the Broadway tour stops at Gammage Auditorium were mostly uninspiring), the wonderful stuff only stood out more dramatically.
Amid so much dross, those golden moments, those great performances, were sweet redemption.
Here are the shows, companies, actors, directors and designers that made 2005-06 worthwhile:
BEST THEATER COMPANY
Southwest Shakespeare Company
Jared Sakren and his troupe had a banner year, both financially and artistically, in their debut at the $98 million Mesa Arts Center. The company found a darker edge in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and embraced the lighter side of the Bard with a silly “The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged),” earning new audiences all the while.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, ACTOR
From a devilish Puck in Southwest Shakespeare’s “Midsummer” to a horrific hooligan in Stray Cat Theatre’s brutal “Trainspotting” (and gobs of work between them), Epps proved once again he’s the Valley’s top utility player.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, ACTRESS
She wasn’t the most prolific actress on the scene — that credit goes to Cathy Dresbach (“Nickel and Dimed,” “The Women”) — but petite Drake, 26, made sublime, subtle magic from her stage roles, as a sweet young French peacekeeper in Desert Rose Theatre’s Christmas show (the one-act “Not On This Night”) and in her professional starring debut, Childsplay’s “The Secret Garden.”
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, DIRECTOR
(tie) Jared Sakren and Damon Dering
Southwest Shakespeare Company and Nearly Naked Theatre, respectively.
“Tommy,” Nearly Naked Theatre
A modest budget forced plucky NNT artistic director Dering to get creative with this boisterous rock opera, enlisting Scorpius Dance Theatre for interpretive dance in place of big effects. A mean rock band and uniformly solid cast rounded out the edges of this powerful production.
BEST ACTOR, MUSICAL
Sean Rhys Gilyeat, “Tommy,” Nearly Naked Theatre
A once-in-a-lifetime star turn by this young Valley stage newcomer.
BEST ACTRESS, MUSICAL
Amber Gildersleeve, “West Side Story,” Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre
A reason to love again that overdone jazz musical: Gildersleeve, just 19, glows from the moonlit balcony as the love-torn Puerto Rican girl Maria.
BEST DIRECTOR, MUSICAL
Dering, “Tommy,” Nearly Naked Theatre
BEST SONG MOMENT
Gregg Temple and Athena Reiss, “I Believe My Own Eyes,” from Nearly Naked Theatre’s “Tommy”
Supporting actors belting for the back rows. A hair-raising experience.
“Broadway Jukebox,” Copperstate Dinner Theater
Nothing more than an audience-led mash-up of Broadway showtunes, featuring some genuinely funny bits. But it’s a reminder of just how great many of those songs remain after all these years.
BEST NATIONAL TOUR
“Movin’ Out,” Broadway touring company, Gammage Auditorium
A storyline of growing up during the Vietnam War as told through the songs of Billy Joel, in a touring production co-starring Fountain Hills export Holly Cruikshank.
BEST CELEBRITY SOLO SHOW
Mandy Patinkin in Concert, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
A warm evening of heartfelt song from the sweet falsetto crooner better known for his television acting.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Southwest Shakespeare Company
Sakren left no comedy gag untapped — purple nurple, crotch hits — in this slapsticky staging, even as it took darker turns in the forest. Southwest Shakespeare’s most accessible, wonderful staging to date.
BEST ACTOR, COMEDY
Wes Martin, “Macbeth,” The Shakespeare Theatre
OK, it wasn’t meant to be a comedy performance. But I’ve never had a better laugh than when watching a disconcertingly Uncle Fester-ish, yet entirely sincere, Martin make out with a band of writhing bisexual witches in this awful gothic staging.
BEST ACTRESS, COMEDY
Christina Rae Stewart, “Blithe Spirit,” Mesa Encore Theatre
Sexy, ghostly and quick with a biting remark, Stewart’s spectral ex-wife in MET’s production of this Noel Coward comedy was slyly hilarious and pitch-perfect.
BEST DIRECTOR, COMEDY
Toni Fioramonti and Jonathan Bowersock, “Ruthless!,” Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre
A fitting satire for Desert Stages, that kiddie mecca: A campy musical about a girl who would do anything, even kill, for a part in the third grade play. Fioramonti and Bowersock wrangle sharp performances from the cast and find wry ways to play with the set, too. No wonder this was an extended-run hit.
“The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds,” iTheatre Collaborative
Patrick DuLaney’s staging of Paul Zindel’s 1971 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, about a dysfunctional and destructive family, played to embarrassingly meager audiences in the Herberger Theater Center’s black box space. But no other production this season packed so strong an emotional wallop.
BEST ACTOR, DRAMA
Kyle Sorrell, “Trainspotting,” Stray Cat Theatre
I had quibbles with Ron May’s direction of this Irvine Welsh drug fantasia, but not so with Sorrell’s performance as junkie-protagonist Mark: Equal parts innocence and apathy, a complex creation.
BEST ACTRESS, DRAMA
Jacqueline Gaston, “Kimberly Akimbo,” Stray Cat Theatre
At 64, Gaston was tapped to play the lead in David Lindsay-Abaire’s drama about a teenager with a rare genetic condition that causes her body to seemingly age four times faster than normal — and she performed the part with a heartbreaking sincerity.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Cale Epps, “Trainspotting,” Stray Cat Theatre
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Toni Fioramonti, “Oklahoma,” Hale Centre Theatre
Playing the girl who can’t say no, Ado Annie, Fioramonti often stole the show.
BEST ORIGINAL WORK
“Citrus Valley Playhouse: On the Air!,” Mesa Arts Center
An old-time radio variety show that isn’t actually broadcast, Brian Nissen’s serialized stage show is one part comedy, one part drama, one part civics lesson, and altogether one heck of a good time.
“Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure,” Arizona Theatre Company
A turn-off-your-brain, turn-up-your-smile evening of light theater, adapted by ATC favorite playwright Steven Dietz.
“The Crucible,” Scottsdale Community Players
No one could have guessed that SCP, in a season of otherwise dreck, would pull off a gem like this taut, moody and evocative drama. Director D. Scott Withers (better known as an actor with Tempe’s Childsplay) pulled commanding performances from his community troupe.
THE AVANT GARDE
“Rummy Starker Love Fest,” Arizona State University’s Prism Theatre
Audiences didn’t know what to make of Amanda Schaar’s espresso-jolt of surrealist sketch comedy theater, directed by Daniel Brodie, but that was kind of the point. Religious philosophy, remote-controlled cars, poultry and rock ’n’ roll — what’s not to love?
(tie) Piper Repertory Theater, Mesa Arts Center; Hale Centre Theatre
BEST HOLIDAY SHOW
Desert Rose Theatre’s Evening of One-Acts
A last-minute assemblage of one-act plays — an adapted “The Gift of the Magi” and Evelyn Jones’ “Not On This Night” — brought home the magic of the Christmas season better than all the “A Christmas Carol” productions across the Valley combined.
BEST MUSICAL ACCOMPANIMENT
Alan Plado, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” Phoenix Theatre
Brent Thomas Mills and Mayann Gregg, “Oklahoma,” Hale Centre Theatre
How do you render those big ensemble numbers on a small in-the-round stage like the Hale’s? By keeping them spirited and compact. Mills and Gregg save the sweet stuff for the musical’s dark dream ballet.
BEST SET DESIGN
Jeff Thomson, “Hamlet,” Southwest Shakespeare Company
A craggy, menacing assemblage of stone walls concealing creepy scrims, with fog bellowing all around.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Sandy Bishop and Corrin Dietlein, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Hale Centre Theatre
BEST LIGHTING DESIGN
Scott Campbell, “The Crucible,” Scottsdale Community Players
BEST COLLEGE PRODUCTION
“Tartuffe,” South Mountain Community College
Director Julie Holston skirted the overtly satirical edge of Moliere’s great send-up of religious piety — a shame, really — but maybe that’s the only way to fly such a zinging play under the radar for a campus production.
BEST YOUTH ACTRESS
Desiree Vaughan, “Ruthless!,” Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre
A 12-year-old sporting a deliciously withering glare underneath her phony blonde ringlets, Vaughan knew how to play innocent-but-cruel. Someone cast her in “The Bad Seed,” quick!
BEST PRODUCTION FOR CHILDREN
“The Secret Garden,” Childsplay
Tucked inside a season brimming with more popular titles (“Junie B. Jones and A Little Monkey Business,” “Seussical,” “Bunnicula”) was this quaint drama of a stubborn orphan who learns to care. Childsplay’s gem of a staging (starring Juliet Drake, Jon Gentry, Debra Stevens and Dwayne Hartford) was artful and compelling — even to an otherwise fidgety child audience.