Throngs of actors, directors and designers descended on the State Theatre on Monday for a glitzy, glamorous celebration of the Twin Cities’ splashiest arts community.
The well-dressed crowd, which included Miss Minnesota, news anchors and other local notables, came on 2,000-strong for the 12th annual Ivey Awards, which spotlight one of the nation’s theater meccas and also serve to recharge the community.
The most anticipated trophies are given to folks on either end of the age/experience continuum. This year’s Ivey for emerging artist went to designer Trevor Bowen, whose costumes have vividly supported disparate artistic visions at Park Square Theatre (“Nina Simone: Four Women”), Theatre Latte Da (“Lullaby”) and Mixed Blood Theatre (“DJ Latinidad”).
“It’s been such a joy and delight and honor for me to be able to tell stories with such brilliant artists,” said Bowen, fighting back tears.
Bowen has been working in the Twin Cities for three years, and his emotional gratitude, filled with sincerity and heart, captured the pitch of the evening.
The lifetime achievement Ivey went to Graydon Royce, who recently retired after 36 years at the Star Tribune — the last 17 as theater critic. (Royce will continue to write for the paper on a freelance basis.)
Royce’s acceptance was preceded by a video in which theater professionals such as Stacia Rice, Jeffrey Hatcher and Kevin Kling ribbed him. Some also got back at him by throwing darts at a picture of his face.
“I’m a good Lutheran boy, so I’m not sure what I did to deserve this,” Royce said. He thanked his family, his editors and Mixed Blood Theatre founder Jack Reuler, who gave him an opportunity to co-write a play on Muhammad Ali many years ago that hooked him in the field.
Ivey officials singled out three productions for overall excellence:
• Director Peter Brosius’ festive staging of “The Wizard of Oz” at the Children’s Theatre, with a dynamic cast that starred Traci Allen Shannon as Dorothy and included Dean Holt, Bradley Greenwald and Reed Sigmund.
• “Le Switch,” Philip Dawkins’ charming gay romantic comedy that director Jeremy Cohen deftly staged at the Jungle Theater.
• “Glensheen,” the smash musical by composer/librettist Chan Poling and bookwriter Jeffrey Hatcher that starred Jennifer Maren as Marjorie Caldwell, the would-be heiress caught up in the notorious Congdon murders. Staged by Ron Peluso, “Glensheen” sold out two runs at the History Theatre.
The Iveys also honored the acting ensemble of Alice Childress’ “Trouble in Mind,” staged by Valerie Curtis-Newton at the Guthrie Theater. The cast included Twin Cities mainstays Austene Van and Kris Nelson.
Individual trophies were handed out to Victor Zupanc, longtime Children’s Theatre composer, arranger and sound designer, for his work on “Pinocchio,” and to Jasmine Hughes, the stage dynamo who was honored for her volcanic turn in “Sunset Baby” at Penumbra Theatre.
Hughes, who was similarly emotional for her solo win for her performance in “Sunset Baby,” also nodded to Reuler, who brought her to the Twin Cities for the first time.
Director Warren Bowles was saluted for his nimble staging of “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. And designer Kate Sutton-Johnson received a trophy for her rococo, evocative set for Peter Rothstein’s gripping production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” staged under the aegis of Theater Latté Da.
The evening included signal performances by a trio from playwright Christina Ham’s “Nina Simone: Four Women.” Regina Marie Williams, Thomasina Petrus and Aimee K. Bryant put on a spirited, stirring “Sinnerman.” Singing actor Heather McElrath, who plays Big Mama Thornton in Urban Spectrum Theatre’s upcoming production of “Warm Dark Dusk,” brought the house down with “Hound Dog.”
And the trio of Tyler Michaels, Emily Jansen and Kate Beahan lit up the place with “You Gotta Have a Gimmick,” a bawdy showstopper from “Gypsy” that came complete with blinking lights and a well-played trumpet.
Founded in 2004 by project director Scott Mayer and named after an early 20th-century restaurant that was an actors’ hangout, the Iveys honor the pluck, invention and creativity of the 80-plus professional theater companies that call the Twin Cities home. More than 100 evaluators saw 1,200-plus performances to make their recommendations.
Unlike Broadway’s Tony Awards, the Iveys do not announce nominees. But like the off-Broadway Obies, the Iveys have categories that can change. There were some notable absences from the list of honorees, including the Guthrie’s “Disgraced,” “Nina Simone: Four Women” at Park Square, Penumbra’s “Dutchman” and Children’s Theatre’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid — The Musical.”
On the flip side, the Iveys seem to go out of their way every year to be fair and balanced, shining lights on the talent of tiny companies that are sometimes overlooked.
This year it presented trophies to actors Kevin Fanshaw and Charles Numrich for their performance in “Equus” at Theatre Coup d’Etat. The Iveys also honored the acting ensemble for New Epic Theater’s election-themed “Now or Later.”
“The purpose of these awards is to show what a phenomenal theater community we have,” said Mayer. “We want to bring everyone together to celebrate.”
The 2016 Iveys were notable for their inclusiveness, and in accepting the award for ensemble acting for “Trouble in Mind,” Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj spoke of the openness that he feels from the community.
“As a newcomer, thank you for welcoming me to your party,” he said.