The AriZonis, annual theatre awards that rhyme with and are modeled after the Tony Awards, last night celebrated their twenty-fifth year with formal ceremonies (one Youth, one Adult) at Tempe Center for the Arts. Forty two theatres from across the greater Phoenix Valley participated in an evening that mixed as only Arizona can, professionalism and glamour with down-home sincerity and earnest.
Like the Tonys, ‘The 25th Annual AriZoni Theatre Awards’ included performances from a handful of the 2014-15 musicals nominated for awards, a few designer gowns, well-known presenters and acceptance speeches. This year’s ceremonies also cleverly borrowed the logo and spoofed a number with newly Zoni-tailored lyrics from the 2005 Broadway musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
During the Adult Ceremony, the central characters from Desert Foothills Theater’s “Dreamgirls” cast, Hale Centre Theatre’s “My Fair Lady” and Theater Works’ “Follies” from Peoria recreated numbers that were moving examples of the palpable, living art that the Phoenix Valley consistently produces. The lengthy list of awardees, too, is an impressive testament, both to the diversified depth and cultural breadth the community is culling.
Unlike New York’s Tony Awards ceremony that drips with celebrity and entertainment facade, the Zonis last night provided a human element that make connecting to a vibrant community much more natural and appreciable. Some of the acceptance speeches and presenters noted with refreshing candor personal anecdotes or community challenges. The fun and attraction of letting your hair down even when the tux is still on colored the whole event.
For instance, David Vining and Claude Pensis received Outstanding Contribution Awards with very individualized introductions. Included were specific ways in which these men helped build “something from nothing” in the Valley or detailed how artists have been nurtured through “a safe place to do dangerous things” because of Vining’s or Pensis’ service to Arizona theatre.
When Johanna Carlisle received Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Contracted Musical for her work in Phoenix Theatre’s “Mary Poppins,” the Arizona factor was further exemplified. She tearfully thanked the community of attendees not for noticing her outstanding talent, but for helping her “through the worst summer of my life” in the wake of a personal tragedy.
Even the genuine sentiment in Ron May’s public, impromptu explanation to a local theatre critic’s question about why he was chosen to direct the award winning production of “Buyer and Cellar” was an endearing example. As he accepted his Best Director honor, he quipped a wry, “That’s why!”
Speaking of whys…. The layperson or casual passerby might ask why, in a community so rich with talent and entertainment, were organizations like Arizona Broadway Theatre and Arizona Theatre Company, who both produce robust and hearty, professional theatre seasons, not included in the Contracted Plays and Musicals category nominations. Questions of that nature seemed especially glaring when only three current Valley companies–Phoenix Theatre, Childsplay and Southwest Shakespeare Company–were vying for the many categories of prizes awarded to the most prestigious ‘Contracted’ organizations.
The drive for excellence and the acknowledgement that very really human heartbeats fuel it… That, in a phrase, characterizes the story that the 2014-15 AriZoni award ceremony told.