Seen: Winter Garden hosts elegant Doras: opera wins big

Albert Schultz of Soulpepper Theatre.

The air was electric at Toronto’s answer to the Tony Awards last night as the best in Toronto-produced theatre, opera and dance were recognized for their efforts at the 2017 DORA Awards.

Held at the legendary Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre, a National Historic Site of Canada, the VIP reception began at 5:30 in the evening but the crowds didn’t start pouring in until an hour later.

DORA nominees as well as members of the public mixed and mingled in the cascading lobbies of the theatre over drinks and elegant faire as a lone flute player entertained the excited crowd. The fashionably attired fun continued until 7 p.m. when an event organizer comically announced last-call. People could soon be seen filing down to the main lobby and into the theatre. The show was about to begin.

The awards were hosted by Raoul Bhaneja—an English-Canadian actor, musician, writer and producer—who had no trouble keeping the energy going as he began with two musical numbers. The first was an ode to losing graciously and the second was a humorous tally of all of the sponsors for the evening. Last came a polite reminder to keep speeches short and a sly warning that if one didn’t they would be played off stage to the soft sounds of The Girl from Ipanema, a song heard several times throughout the night.

Eleanor McMahon—Minister of tourism, culture and sport for the Province of Ontario—and actor Kawa Ada presented the first set of awards, which began with Outstanding Male Performance in the independent theatre category. Robert Persichini was the winner for his performance in Superior Donuts. Winning for Outstanding Female Performance in the same category was Nora McLellan for her role as Genevieve in Annie Baker’s John.

Winning for Outstanding Ensemble performance in the independent category was The Ensemble of This is the Point. For the acceptance speech, writer and actor Tony Diamanti spelled out the words using the specially adapted pointer worn on his head. Fellow actor Dan Watson read these words: “Wow! This is great. This is to make you people aware of us,” referring to the differently abled.

Also in the independent theatre category was Outstanding Direction, which was won by Christopher Stanton for his direction of Pomona. Accepting the award, Stanton said that the award was “for anyone who has ever dealt with either internal or external protest. Keep fighting.”

Shannon Lea Doyle won for Outstanding Scenic Design for her work on John and Lindsay Dagger Junkin from the production of Tough Jews won for Outstanding Costume Design. Accepting the award Junkin thanked the actors for, “looking good in blood.”

Totally adorable actor Kawa Ada.

Actor Kawa Ada.

Winning for Outstanding Sound Design/Composition was Waleed Abdulhamid and DJ L’Oquenz for their work on The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely a coming-of-age tale of sexuality which would go on to win the award for Outstanding New Play in the same category. Ngozi Paul—writer and actress—accepted the award. Closing out the independent theatre category Michelle Ramsay and Jennifer Tipton won for Outstanding Lighting Design for their efforts in The Magic Hour.

The next category of Musical Theatre/Opera began with Mark Marczyk winning for Outstanding Choreography for his work on Counting Sheep. Michelle Ramsay was the first to win for the production Rocking Horse Winner for Outstanding Lighting Design, although this was hardly the last award for Rocking Horse Winner. The production would go on to win another four more awards and saw its second award when Michael Hidetoshi Mori winning for Outstanding Direction.

The production of Norma won the next two awards in the category, however neither David Korins (winning for Outstanding Scenic Design) nor Jessica Jahn (winning for Outstanding Costume Design) were able to make the show. Those awards were accepted on their behalf. Also not able to make the show was Johannes Debus winning for Outstanding Musical Direction for the Canadian Opera Company production of Götterdämerung.

Irene Sankoff and David Hein won Outstanding New Musical/Opera for the Broadway smash hit Come From Away, which tells the tale of a town in Newfoundland as it accepts the multitudes of Syrian refugees in 2016. Come From Away has achieved amazing success and praise and will be returning to Toronto in February 2018 after its stint on Broadway.

In the category of Theatre For Young Audiences, Anita Majumdar won both Outstanding Individual Performance as well as Outstanding New Play. The stunned Majumdar thanked Young People’s Theatre—the oldest professional theatre company in Toronto—for giving her a chance to tell her story and share the importance of consent.

Bad Hat Theatre’s production of Peter Pan was the big winner of the category picking up three awards. Severn Thompson won outstanding Direction and the cast won for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. The production also won the overall Outstanding Production award and speaking on behalf of the entire crew Fiona Sauder (writer as well as the character of Peter Pan) said that it was “amazing to accept this award in a room full of people who refuse to grow up” and that it was for “the people who said YES!”

In the category of Opera there were three winners. Sondra Radvanovsky won Outstanding Female Performance for her role in Norma and winning for Outstanding Male Performance was Asitha Tennekoon for Rocking Horse Winner. The cast of Rocking Horse Winner also won Outstanding Ensemble Performance, the fourth award that evening for the production.

What it’s Like won two awards in the Dance category. Simon Rossiter won for Outstanding Lighting Design and the cast won for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. Also in the Dance category, Michael Caldwell won Outstanding Male Performance for Crave (Crave/Defiant) while winning the award for Outstanding Female Performance was Jennifer Dallas for her work in Kittly-Bender

Lina Cruz won outstanding Original Choreography for Ylem (3 Eggs Ago), and rounding out the Dance category, Benjamin Barrile won Outstanding Sound Design/Composition for the production Jacinto.

Next was the General Theatre category and the production of Master Harold…and the Boys won for both Outstanding Male performance as well as Outstanding Direction. André Sills accepted the award for male performance and thanked director Philip Akin whom he said, “won’t let me get away with anything”

The cast of Incident at Vichy produced by the Soulpepper Theatre Company won for Outstanding Ensemble Performance and Maev Beaty won Outstanding Female Performance for her contribution to the production of The Last Wife.

The evening ended with the overall Outstanding Production awards beginning with Outstanding Touring Production, which was won by 887, produced by Canadian Stage. Winning Outstanding Production for Opera was Rocking Horse Winner and What it’s Like—co-produced by adelheid. The Theatre Centre won for Outstanding Dance Production.

This is the Point won Outstanding Independent Theatre Production and, not surprisingly, Come From Away won for Outstanding Musical Theatre Production. The final award for the night went to Soulpepper Theatre Company for its production of Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts I, II, III) winning Outstanding General Theatre Production.

— Steven Tymciw