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Sunday, December 24, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Theater

Misha Berson's Footlight Awards: Season's highs and lows

Seattle Times theater critic

There were things to celebrate in Seattle area theater in 2006 — and things to mourn.

The champagne corks popped for Intiman Theatre last spring, when the Seattle Center company received a prestigious Tony Award for regional-theater excellence. It was only the second Tony bestowed on a local troupe (the first went to Seattle Repertory Theatre, in 1990).

The year was far less kind to Empty Space Theatre. Why did this pioneering, 36-year-old theater group expire so suddenly, because of a relatively modest cash shortfall? We're still not entirely sure. But it was a cryin' shame.

Exchange Theatre, a company devoted to British and American stage classics, also called it quits. And the multi-disciplinary arts center Consolidated Works shuttered, when its occupancy of a warehouse in the rapidly gentrifying South Lake Union became problematic.

ConWorks was unable to find a suitable new space, a demonstration of how tough it is getting for cultural groups without beaucoup bucks to survive here, in an era of gung-ho real-estate development. Also under threat of eviction: Capitol Hill's Northwest Actors Studio, a space which allows fringe companies to put up shows on the cheap.

Hard as it is to lose vital arts institutions, it's the theater folk who passed away this year who will be most missed — including designer Scott Weldin and actor John Gilbert.

On the bright side, some grand shows were offered. And local stages got gutsier, examining racism, abortion, the Iraq war and other pressing subjects.

We can also happily salute many inspired local actors for a bevy of terrific performances — which at times outshone their material.

W can't name them all. But we'll do our best, in the 2006 Footlight Awards for excellence, disappointments and oddities in local theater:

Best Mainstage Productions: "Radio Golf" and "Doubt" (Seattle Repertory Theatre); "Native Son" (Intiman Theatre); "Louis Slotin Sonata" (Empty Space Theatre); "The Pillowman" (ACT Theatre); "Bud, Not Buddy" and "Plainsong" (Book-It Repertory Theatre).

Savviest Shakespeare: "Richard III" (Intiman); "King John" (upstart crow at Capitol Hill Arts Center).

Best Musicals (local): "Wonderful Town" (5th Avenue Theatre) and "Bye Bye Birdie" (Village Theatre).

Best "Off Broadway": "Never Walk Alone" and "Swimming in the Shallows" (Washington Ensemble Theatre); "Lobby Hero" (Seattle Public Theater); "The Transylvanian Clockworks" (Balagan Theatre).

Best Children's Show: "Peter and the Wolf" (Seattle Children's Theatre).

New Play of Distinction: "Radio Golf" by August Wilson. Runner-up: "Burning Bridget Cleary" by Allison Gregory (CHAC).

Great Concept, Needs Work: "Mitzi's Abortion" by Elizabeth Heffron.

Reflected Glory Award: Intiman Theatre, recipient of the 2006 Tony Award for regional theater excellence.

Welcome Visitors: "Waiting for Godot" (Dublin's Gate Theatre at the Moore Theatre); "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (Paramount Theatre); "Major Bang" (The Foundry); "Varekai" (Cirque du Soleil" at Marymoor Park); Sankai Juku (Paramount).

Dazzling Performances: Ato Essandoh ("Native Son"); Jeanne Paulsen ("Memory House" at Seattle Rep); April Yvette Thompson ("Wine in the Wilderness" at ACT); Jennifer Lee Taylor ("The House of Mirth" at Book-It Rep); Anthony Chisholm ("Radio Golf"); Scott Coopwood ("Cyrano De Bergerac" at Seattle Shakespeare Festival); Lathrop Walker and Michael Place ("Never Walk Alone"); Kandis Chappell ("Doubt"); Dennis Arndt ("The Pillowman"); Najla Said ("9 Parts of Desire" at Seattle Rep); Heather Hawkins ("As Bees in Honey Drown" at ArtsWest).

Marvelous Musical Turns: Nick DeSantis ("tick, tick ... Boom!" at ArtsWest); Peggy O'Connell ("Hello, Dolly!"); Sarah Rudinoff and Billie Wildrick ("Wonderful Town"); Norbert Leo Butz ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels").

Fetching Farceurs: Cast of "The Underpants" (ACT).

Richly Repulsive Richard III's: Todd Jefferson Moore ("Richard III" at Seattle Shakes); Stephen Pelinski ("Richard III").

Solo Magic: "Bust" by Lauren Weedman (Empty Space).

One to Watch: Actor Sharia Pierce, who shone in "Memory House" and "Mitzi's Abortion."

Men Will Be Boys: Gabriel Baron as a middle-schooler in "Honus & Me" (Seattle Children's Theatre); Earl Alexander as an orphan (in "Bud, Not Buddy").

Designer Honor Roll: Matthew Smucker ("Pillowman," "Wine in the Wilderness," etc.); Jennifer Zeyl ("Swimming in the Shallows," "A Winter's Tale"); Melanie Taylor Burgess ("A Winter's Tale," "Wine in the Wilderness"); David Gallo ("Radio Golf").

Best Play About Gay Wrestlers: "Piledriver!" (Joe Boston Productions at CHAC).

Men in Tights: Colin Byrne, as the dashing Sherwood Forest bandit in Theater Schmeater's outdoor "Robin Hood."

Guys in Pumps: Andrew Tasakos, as a woozy, zoned-out Judy Garland in "The Judy Garland Christmas Special" (Open Circle Theatre).

Best Generation, Sappiest Musical: The USO-themed "Girl of My Dreams" (Village Theatre).

Not Bringing Sexy Back: "What Is Sexy?" (WET).

Best Theatrical Acupuncture Session: "Mapa Corpo" by Guillermo Gómez-Peña (ConWorks).

Earplugs Please, and Eye Shade: Cirque du Soleil's loud, boring musical spectacle, "Delirium."

Lamest Star Turn: Molly Ringwald, sadly miscast in "Sweet Charity" (Paramount).

That (Bad) '70s Show: "Pippin" (5th Avenue).

Frankly, We Don't Give a Damn: "Moonlight and Magnolias" (Intiman), a comedy about the moviemaking of "Gone With the Wind."

Soggy Kleenex Prize: The mawkish "Tuesdays with Morrie" (Seattle Rep) and "On Golden Pond" (Village).

Scrooge Award: Paul Allen's Vulcan Real Estate, for not helping ConWorks keep its South Lake Union digs.

Best Northwest Theatre News: Portland Center Stage opens a new playhouse, and Bill Rauch is Oregon Shakespeare Festival's next artistic director.

Kaput: Empty Space Theatre, Consolidated Works and Exchange Theatre.

On the Brink: Northwest Actors Studio.

In Recovery: Tacoma Actors Guild.

On the Rise: Seatle Public Theater and Balagan Theatre.

Local Treasure: Longtime Seattle actor William Hall Jr. ("Bud, Not Buddy," "Wine in the Wilderness").

Gone, Not Forgotten: A fond farewell to those who passed in 2006: set designer Scott Weldin; actor John Gilbert; playwright Wendy Wasserstein; and audio book/voiceover actress Kate Fleming.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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