“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” was the big winner at the 31st Elliot Norton Awards Monday night at the Paramount Center. Company One’s staging of Kristoffer Diaz’s wrestling-themed play pinned its opponents to the mat in four categories, lifting aloft prizes for outstanding production, director (Shawn LaCount), actor (Ricardo Engermann), and design in the small-or-fringe division.
LaCount, who is Company One’s artistic director, accepted the last of the four awards with a simple “Thank you for so much ‘Chad’ love tonight.” Before that, Company One had set the evening’s unofficial record for most recipients on stage at one time, with 11. They made an elaborate exit as well: Half of them went off in the wrong direction, and the next presenter, Nick Dussault, had to herd the rest back behind him.
The evening began with a medley of songs from the Lyric Stage Company’s production of “Avenue Q,” the musical in which puppets share the stage with human actors. Joyce Kulhawik, president of the Boston Theater Critics Association, which presents the Norton Awards, came out and announced, “We are Boston arts strong,” and added, “It’s been a hell of a year, on stage and off.”
In a pretaped segment shown on the big video screen, Kulhawik honored Mayor Thomas M. Menino as the Elliot Norton Champion of the Performing Arts, citing him in particular as an advocate for the refurbishment of Boston theaters like the Paramount. The mayor graciously thanked his staff, saying, “They do all the work; I take all the credit.”
It was a good night for puppets and for actors named Lyman. The Lyric’s “Avenue Q” garnered the awards for outstanding musical and outstanding ensemble by a midsize, small, or fringe company. Will Lyman received this year’s Elliot Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence, and he proved that he is not resting on his laurels by also winning the award for outstanding actor in a midsize-company production for his work in New Repertory Theatre’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night” and Nora Theatre Company/Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT Project’s “Operation Epsilon.” His daughter, Georgia, took the outstanding solo performance award for her appearance in New Repertory Theatre’s “Chesapeake,” in which she channels a Chesapeake Bay retriever; she thanked the selection committee “for recognizing my inner bitch.”
Honors in the large-company division were more or less evenly divided between the American Repertory Theater and the Huntington Theatre Company. For the ART, “The Glass Menagerie” won outstanding director (John Tiffany) and ensemble, while “Pippin” won outstanding musical production and outstanding musical performance by an actress (Andrea Martin). Martin, in a video appearance, recalled that Elliot Norton had reviewed “the first show I ever did, ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,’ at the Wilbur Theatre.”
The Huntington won for outstanding production (“Our Town”), outstanding actor (LeRoy McClain in “A Raisin in the Sun”), and outstanding actress (Bianca Amato in “Private Lives”). Amato, whose fellow nominees included Cherry Jones in “The Glass Menagerie,” seemed stunned to have won, and she raised her arms and salaamed toward Jones, who was in the audience, in a show of respect. When Jones came on stage to accept the ensemble award for “The Glass Menagerie,” she received one of the loudest ovations of the evening.
ArtsEmerson snagged two awards, outstanding visiting production and outstanding design by a large company, for its presentation of the Vesturport Theatre and Lyric Hammersmith’s “Metamorphosis.” Accepting for “Metamorphosis” star and co-director Gísli Örn Gardarsson, ArtsEmerson executive director Rob Orchard explained that Gardarsson was in Reykjavík and could not come to the ceremony because, as the actor put it in his message, “Iceland is broke.” When Orchard returned to collect the second award for “Metamorphosis,” he noted wryly, “Gísli is still in Reykjavík.”
The award for outstanding musical performance by an actor went to Sahr Ngaujah in the touring production of the Broadway hit “Fela!,” which played at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, and whose producers included Jay-Z, Will Smith, and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Last year, SpeakEasy Stage Company walked off with six prizes in the midsize division; this year it ended the evening with three. “The [Expletive] With the Hat” won for outstanding production, and Evelyn Howe was named outstanding actress for her performance in the play. Paul Melone received the outstanding director award for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”
The only fringe company to take any prizes was Happy Medium Theatre. Its “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” won twice, for outstanding production by a fringe company and outstanding actress (Kiki Samko) in a small- or fringe-company production. But the outstanding new script was Ryan Landry’s parody “Mildred Fierce,” which was staged by his fringe company, the Gold Dust Orphans.
Actors’ Equity Association, the actors’ and stage managers’ union, was given a Special Citation to honor its centenary. And 80-year-old Broadway legend Chita Rivera, who a year ago starred in the Swellegance Gala Benefit for Boston Youth Moves at the Citi Shubert Theater, received the Elliot Norton Lifetime Achievement Award. The “Chita Rivera Tribute” that preceded her appearance included a group of Boston Youth Moves dancers in a hot “Tango Encantado” number, an encomium from tap great Maurice Hines, and a sizzling tap duet from the Manzari Brothers, who will appear in the Hines show “Tappin’ Thru Life” that plays this week at the Cutler Majestic Theatre. Rivera, who shook a leg at the audience when she came up on stage, did not dance, but looked as if she could have.