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Multiple honors for ART, Lyric Stage at Norton Awards

Two of American Repertory Theater’s seven Elliot Norton awards were for a co-production of “The Tempest” with the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Nevada.
Two of American Repertory Theater’s seven Elliot Norton awards were for a co-production of “The Tempest” with the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Nevada.THE SMITH CENTER/GERI KODEY/Geri Kodey

The American Repertory Theater was a seven-time winner Monday night at the 33d annual Elliot Norton Awards, which recognize the year's best in local theater.

The Cambridge theater's awards were spread among three productions — "The Shape She Makes," "The Tempest," and "Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)"; there were none for "Finding Neverland," the show it sent to Broadway this year. "The Shape She Makes," the conceptual marriage of dance, music, and theater that made its world premiere at Oberon, ART's second stage, won three awards, including outstanding production by a large resident theater.

Lyric Stage Company of Boston also fared well, with four awards, three coming for its production of "Into the Woods." The total includes Aimee Doherty's award for outstanding musical performance by an actress, which cited her roles in both "Woods" and SpeakEasy Stage Company's "Far From Heaven." "Into the Woods" won for best musical production as well as for Spiro Veloudos's direction in the midsize theater category.

There were otherwise no heavily decorated productions, with five others netting two awards apiece.

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The ceremony at the Citi Performing Arts Center Shubert Theatre featured no tuxedos but plenty of festive formal wear among the industry-heavy audience, with members of Boston's theater community turning out to toast each other. Some of the area's smaller theater companies were represented with the most robust cheering sections, but mutual celebration of the local scene seemed to trump any fiercely competitive spirit.

Ryan Landry, the playwright, director, and performer who founded the irreverent troupe the Gold Dust Orphans nearly 20 years ago, was recognized with the Elliot Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence. Landry's acceptance speech capped the evening and provided one of its emotional highlights. He described his theater's humble beginnings and its perseverance in the face of "disapproval and disinterest."

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"Some people think what we do is not art, because we do it on a shoestring budget, or because we do it at a gay bar," he said. Landry repeatedly described his theatrical brethren as his family. "It is all of you here who make a family, regardless of whether its members are God's choice or your own."

Indeed, the ceremony proved a potent celebration of gay pride. Nick Dussault of Boston Metro (and the awards committee) recalled watching Medford native and the evening's guest of honor, Lea DeLaria, on "The Arsenio Hall Show," when she became the first openly gay woman to do stand-up comedy on late-night television. "I don't know if you were comfortable in your skin then, but you sure looked like you were. And you helped those of us who weren't," Dussault said. DeLaria, who currently plays Carrie "Big Boo" Black on the Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black," prompted a large ovation by showing off her jazz chops and singing "Taking a Chance on Love" to piano accompaniment.

"Welcome back to the home of gay marriage," evening host Joyce Kulhawik said afterward.

Actors' Shakespeare Project nabbed the award for outstanding production by a midsize theater with "God's Ear," for which Tamara Hickey also won the corresponding award for outstanding actress. The Poets' Theatre made a splash in its return to the Boston theater scene with "Albatross" (a co-production with Mike Seiden), which won for outstanding production by a midsize theater as well as for Benjamin Evett's solo performance. Apollinaire Theatre Company won for outstanding production by a fringe theater, for "Stupid [Expletive] Bird."

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In other acting awards, the ART shared awards for outstanding actor and actress at a large company, with Tom Nelis ("The Tempest") and Finnerty Steeves ("The Shape She Makes") winning those honors. Steeves beat both Brooke Adams ("Happy Days") and Cicely Tyson ("The Trip to Bountiful").

Nael Nacer won for best actor at a midsize theater for "Intimate Apparel" at the Lyric. Among the smallest theaters, acting awards went to Victor L. Shopov for "Bent" at Zeitgeist Stage Company and Lee Mikeska Gardner for "Emilie: La Marquise du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight" at Nora Theatre Company, where she serves as artistic director.

Steven Bargonetti won for best musical performance by an actor for "Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)," a co-production of the ART and New York's Public Theater. The production also won for Suzan-Lori Parks's script.

The directing awards included a second win for "The Tempest," for Teller and Aaron Posner. Natsu Onoda Power nabbed the award for director at a small or fringe theater for "Astro Boy and the God of Comics" at Company One Theatre. That production also won for best design at a midsize, small, or fringe theater. The other best-design award, for large theaters, went to "The Second Girl" at the Huntington Theatre Company.

"Bedlam's Saint Joan," a bare-bones interpretation of the George Bernard Shaw play by the New York City company Bedlam (and presented locally by Underground Railway Theater), won for both outstanding visiting production and outstanding ensemble at a midsize, small, or fringe theater. The other best-ensemble award, for large theaters, went to the cast of the Huntington's "The Colored Museum."

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The "Norties" are bestowed by the Boston Theater Critics Association, a 10-person panel that includes Boston Globe theater critic Don Aucoin. Kulhawik is its president. The award is named after famed critic Elliot Norton, who died in 2003 at 100 after a long career in newspapers and television.

Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@jeremydgoodwin.com.