The nominations for the third annual Kevin Kline Awards were announced two weeks ago. Beyond agreement or disagreement with specific nominees, this list of 118 nominations in 22 different categories provides an intriguing overview of the local theater scene. For instance, in each of the first two seasons 17 different theater companies received nods; this year 24 companies received nominations, confirming what we've all come to sense: There's more theater out there.
Nominations always include sins of omission. As usual, some of my personal favorite performances were ignored. But that's how it works when large numbers of judges are voting. Perhaps even more striking is the judges' omission of any actors from all six mainstage productions at the Rep. Heartbreak House, The Heidi Chronicles, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, The History Boys, Dracula and Kiss Me, Kate were large-cast productions containing flashy star roles and meaty character turns. Yet not one single actor from any of those shows was nominated. Nor one director. This is a stunning comment on the declining condition of the Rep mainstage.
And all the more so when we consider that these nominations reflect a populist view of local theater. For any number of valid reasons (one being that some of the area's most knowing theater experts are excluded from judging owing to their connections with specific companies), collectively the judges have morphed into an audience-at-large that tends to reward popular shows. It's no surprise, for instance, that Stages St. Louis' production of The Full Monty received twice as many nods as did its A Little Night Music. The Sondheim musical was exquisitely rendered, but Monty probably did twice as well at the box office.
The one area that needs clarification, as it did last year, remains the ensemble categories; there is still not a clear delineation as to what ensemble acting is. For example, Les Miserables at the Muny comprised a truly outstanding ensemble made up of performers like this year's three-time Kevin nominee Kari Ely, who spoke not a word but whose very presence onstage felt authentic. Yet this production was not nominated. Among non-musicals the most blistering ensemble work was in the two-character A Number in the Rep Studio. Not nominated. Perhaps judges deem two to be a pair rather than an ensemble. These categories require further thought. Perhaps shows should be judged by size of cast rather than genre. I wouldn't hesitate to weigh the ensemble merits of You Can't Take It With You against Crazy for You.
On a happier note, once again this year we see the Kevins at their most helpful. Remnant was the initial offering by Mustard Seed Theatre, a new company that operates out of Fontbonne University. Remnant received six nominations in all — more than any other nonmusical. Just as, two years ago, recognition from the Kevins helped to establish the reputation of the Orange Girls, who had just made a timely and debut with Going to See the Elephant, there's now the possibility that the Kevins can shed some light on the fledgling Mustard Seed, and especially on its upcoming staging of Measure for Measure, which opens one week after this year's March 31 awards ceremony.
For the third consecutive year, seven people received multiple nominations. One of those seven is former Riverfront Times theater critic Deanna Jent, who chose to cease reviewing last year in order to focus on directing and to co-found Mustard Seed Theatre. Not only did Jent receive three nods for directing, but six actors who were directed by her also have been nominated, and four of the six plays nominated for outstanding ensemble were under her tutelage. Apparently she made the right choice. Congratulations.
To see a full list of Kevin Kline Award nominees, visit www.kevinklineawards.org.
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