Pick a Winner 

The Ostranders celebrate another year of theater in Memphis.

The 22nd Annual Ostrander Awards, named after Memphis' favorite actor, the late Jim Ostrander, will be held at Memphis Botanic Garden's Hardin Hall on Monday, August 29th. With 13 nominations, Circuit Playhouse's production of A Man of No Importance, a bittersweet musical about a gay bus driver in brawling Dublin, leads the pack. But was it the best? Hardly! For this year's critic's picks, read on ...

With its narrow swath of blue sky, Bruce Bergner's expressionistic design for Of Mice and Men at Playhouse on the Square put the audience into the off-kilter world of John Steinbeck's Great Depression. It was not only the best set of the year but one of the best on-stage environments Memphis has ever seen, and it will easily trump designs for Germantown Community Theatre's Diary of Anne Frank, as well as Theatre Memphis' productions of Dracula and Enchanted April.

There are only three nominees for choreography: Amy Hanford for the Harrell Theatre's Oliver, Courtney Oliver and Lindsey Roberts for Playhouse's Man of La Mancha, and Jay Rapp for Playhouse's Beauty & the Beast. Oliver and Roberts do fine work, but when Rapp's choreographing your show, you don't need to hire a director. Rapp will win.

It's immensely frustrating that Megan Bowers didn't get a supporting actress/musical nomination for her stunning, backwoods turn in Floyd Collins and even more frustrating that she did get tapped for much easier and more obvious work in Beauty & the Beast. It's not likely she'll win, however, given Christina Wellford Scott's brilliantly grumpy performance in A Man of No Importance and Anita Jo Lenhart's pitch-perfect turn as the countess in A Little Night Music. I'm calling this one for Scott, but Lenhart would be equally deserving.

For Best Supporting Actor in a Musical there's no choice. Although Jonathan Russom was outstandingly depressed in A Little Night Music, Evan Linder took on a much beefier role in Floyd Collins, and he'll take home the prize.

Angela Groeschen's trampy turn in Man of La Mancha could win the Ostrander for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, easily trouncing her own performance in Beauty & the Beast. Crystin Gilmore shook the rafters in It Ain't Nothing but the Blues, and Ann Sharp was divine as the aging actress in A Little Night Music, but neither could hold a candle to Groeschen's fiery take on Adonza the whore.

For leading Actor in a musical there are only two real choices: Michael Ingersoll as the unlucky caver in Floyd Collins or Dave Landis in A Man of No Importance. Although Innersole had a tougher assignment, I'm calling this one for Landis.

The award for Best Direction of a Musical should go to Mark Steven Robinson for A Little Night Music, but, as Floyd Collins was ruined by a horrible set, and Man of La Mancha didn't take off until the second act, Scott Ferguson will win for Beauty & the Beast. What Beauty & the Beast lacked in depth, it more than made up for in detail, and it should triumph over Floyd Collins and Man of La Mancha to win Best Production of a Musical.

Best Supporting Actress and Actor in a Drama? Laurie Cook McIntosh was nothing short of stunning in Playhouse's Book of Days. It's a shame nobody but the theater judges and critics saw that amazing show. There's certainly no justice in the world if Jeff Godsey doesn't win best supporting actor for his chilling turn in Book of Days. Although Ron Gordon (Looking for Normal), Jack Kendall (The Girls in 509), and Dave Landis (Of Mice and Men) are all capable of excellent work, Godsey schooled them all with his work in one of Langford Wilson's finest dramas.

Leading Actress in a Drama is a tough category to call, because it's the one category where this critic missed the majority of nominated performances. I'd put my money on Christina Wellford Scott (Theatre Memphis' Master Class), if only because it's a one-woman show - and a hard one at that.

Picking the winner for Leading Actor in a Drama is much easier: George Dudley for his turn as the not-so-gentle giant in Of Mice and Men.

This is the year of Of Mice and Men, a sterling example of everything theater can and should be: a feast for the eyes, ears, mind, soul, and heart. It would be an insult to the art and craft of live performance if Drew Fracher doesn't win Best Director, and if Of Mice and Men isn't awarded top honors for excellence in a dramatic production.

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