For the 27th year, the CT Critics Circle honored the best in the state for the 2016-2017 theater season at Sacred Heart University's Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in a gala celebration. Three-time Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann served as a "brisk" Master of Ceremonies while Bobby Conte Thornton, star of Broadway's "A Bronx Tale" performed musical selections.
Taking top honors for best play was Westport Country Playhouse's moving production of a man being held for ransom, "The Invisible Hand" while best musical went to a family coping with mom's mental illness, "Next to Normal" by Hartford TheaterWorks.
The Tom Killen Award for lifetime service in the theater was awarded to Paulette Haupt for her four decades as Artistic Director of the National Music Theater Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford. Ms. Haunt will retire this year and will be feted at a gala at the unique site in Waterford on July 22 at 6 p.m. Go to www.theoneill.org for the full schedule of offerings in musicals, plays and cabarets.
The superb British actor Paxton Whitehead was singled out for a special lifetime achievement award, especially for his numerous appearances at Westport Country Playhouse in Alan Ayckbourn comedies. James Lecesne who has devoted his life to improving the fate of gay youth through his writings, acting and advocacy work was also recognized. He appeared this year in his own work, a one man show, "The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey" at Hartford Stage.
Awards for outstanding actors in a musical went to Christiane Noll for playing the mom in "Next to Normal" and to Zach Schanne as Tony in "West Side Story" at Summer Theatre of New Canaan. Outstanding actor in a play went to Eric Bryant as the hostage in "The Invisible Hand" and to Vanessa R. Butler as a conflicted military soldier in Hartford Stage's "Queens for a Year."
Best director nods went to Rob Ruggiero for his emotional "Next to Normal" and to David Kennedy for his intense "The Invisible Hand." Outstanding featured actors in a play in a musical went to Rhett Guter for his title role in Goodspeed's "Bye Bye Birdie" while Kate Simone took top honors for her title role as "Gypsy" at Music Theatre of Connecticut.
Mia Dillon was selected best featured actor for her duel roles as a child and as a dowager in Hartford Stage's "Cloud 9" while Cleavant Derricks lobbied for possession of the family legacy in Hartford Stage's "The Piano Lesson."
Long Wharf's Theatre's "The Meteor Shower" took top honors for its quirky ensemble cast, Maya Keleher won the debut award for playing the conflicted daughter in "Next to Normal," Jon Peterson for writing and playing the talented Anthony Newley in Seven Angels' production of "He Wrote Good Songs," and Doug Shankman for his clever choreography in "West Side Story" at Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
Jane Shaw won for her special sound design as did Darko Tresnjak for his outstanding Greek Village set and Fabio Toblini for his flamboyant costumes in "The Comedy of Errors" at Hartford Stage while John Lasiter won best lighting for illuminating "Next to
Presenters included Obie-winning composer Kirsten Childs, actor-director-producer Jerry Adler, O'Neill Theater Center founder George White, former Goodspeed Musicals executive Michael Price, broadway.com editor-in-chief Paul Wontorek, SiriusXM radio host Julie James and Tony Award-winning set designer Michael Yeargan.