In an evening that began with a song and dance tribute to two of South Florida's most ardent theater supporters and talents, Iris Acker and Tony Finstrom, both of whom passed away this past year, Monday night's 43rd Carbonell Awards at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts' Au Rene Theater was full of wonderful performances, heartfelt speeches, and plenty of awards. Many tipped their hat to South Florida, especially Michael McKeever, the South Florida playwright honored with the George Abbott Award who currently has "After" playing off-Broadway, a show that premiered at Miami's Zoetic Stage.
He proclaimed a few times: "When I'm in New York, people keep asking me what we are doing down here," referring to so many original works that are being produced here then going on to other places, including South Florida playwright Christopher Demos-Brown's "American Son," which played Broadway's Booth theater this past season.
In between the awards presentations, video displays, sometimes featuring interviews with directors, spotlighted the plays vying in the Best Play category. For the musicals, live performances held an audience filled with South Florida actors, directors, and others who present or are involved in theater, spellbound.
The South Florida Theater League held their after party inside the lobby of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, complete with a deejay playing music for dancing, plenty of food from Chinese to Italian fare prepared by the center's catering staff, and models covered in gold that looked like female versions of the Oscar award.
But the Carbonells are really about one thing. The awards.
"Indecent," a haunting drama about a Jewish theatre troupe and its devotion to a controversial play, and "Memphis," an exuberant musical about the racial divide in early days of rock and roll, took their respective places in South Florida theatrical history as Best Play and Best Musical. It’s been seven years since Palm Beach Dramaworks in West Palm Beach has taken home one of the top honors, and it scored big with two shows. "Indecent" garnered five Carbonell Awards, the most of any show produced in 2018. In addition to Best Play, Jay Russell won Best Supporting Actor, Play; Paul Black won Best Lighting Design; Brad Pawlak won Best Sound Design; and the show won Best Ensemble. Palm Beach Dramaworks’ summer musical, "Woody Guthrie’s American Song" earned two Carbonell Awards: Best Director, Musical, for Bruce Linser; and Best Musical Direction for Sean Powell.
This is the first time Slow Burn Theatre Company has won the Carbonell Award for Best Musical, and it’s the first time in eight years that a theatre in Broward County has won in this category. Slow Burn won four awards for two of its musicals: In addition to Best Musical, "Memphis" won two other awards, Best Choreography for Patrick Fitzwater and Best Actor, Musical, for Brian Golub. The company’s other Carbonell Award went to Anna Lise Jensen for Best Actress, Musical, for "The Bridges of Madison County."
Zoetic Stage won four Carbonell Awards for three of its shows. Christopher Demos-Brown won the Best New Work category for his play "Wrongful Deaths and Other Circus Acts," which also garnered the Best Director, Play, award for Stuart Meltzer. Zoetic’s other two Carbonell Awards went to Caleb Scott, Best Actor, Play, for "Dancing Lessons"; and Jeni Hacker, Best Supporting Actress, Musical, for "Fun Home."
Palm Beach County theaters won half of the 20 categories the Carbonell Awards recognizes. Of the other 10 categories, Miami-Dade theaters won six Carbonell Awards and Broward County theaters won four Carbonell Awards.
In addition to Palm Beach Dramaworks’ seven Carbonell Awards, two other Palm Beach County theaters earned honors: Theatre Lab in Boca Raton, the professional resident company of Florida Atlantic University, won its first-ever Carbonell Awards this year. Their two Carbonell Awards went to Dawn C. Shamburger, Best Costume Design for "The Revolutionists"; and Niki Fridh, Best Supporting Actress, Play, for "Tar Beach." This is Fridh’s second Carbonell Award---she won Best Actress, Play, last year for "Grounded" at Thinking Cap Theatre. The Wick Theatre, also in Boca Raton, garnered the Best Supporting Actor, Musical, award for Michael C. Walters in "The Pirates of Penzance."
While four of the Carbonell Awards bestowed upon Miami-Dade County theaters went to Zoetic Stage, Miami New Drama, which produces its shows at the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach, won its first-ever Carbonell Awards for two of its shows: Betsy Graver won Best Actress, Play, for "Queen of Basel"; and the twin brother team Christopher and Justin Swader won Best Scenic Design for "One Night in Miami."
All four of Broward County’s Carbonell Awards went to Slow Burn Theatre Company.
Along with honoring excellence in regional theater for the previous year, a highlight of the annual Carbonell Awards ceremony is recognizing those who have made significant contributions to the arts. Three special Carbonell Awards were given to individuals who have made an impact on the arts in the region
The prestigious George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, awarded to an individual (or team) who has contributed significantly to the artistic and cultural development of the region, was presented to McKeever, actor, scenic designer, co-founder of Miami’s Zoetic Stage, and a prolific playwright whose 30 produced plays have all premiered in South Florida, with many going on to productions nationally, internationally, and off-Broadway.
The Ruth Foreman Award, named in honor of pioneer theater director and producer Ruth Foreman, to recognize contributions to South Florida theater development by an individual or group, for singular achievement and/or career contributions, was awarded to Juggerknot Theatre Company, for "Miami Motel Stories," which explores Miami’s colorful history with short plays by playwright Juan C. Sanchez, through an innovative, immersive theatrical experience. Tanya Bravo, Juggerknot Theatre Company’s founder and artistic director, accepted the award on behalf of her company.
The Charlie Cinnamon Award, created in 2016 to honor an individual who not only contributes significantly to the support of the arts in South Florida, but also for dedicated service to the Carbonell Awards organization, was awarded to Jennifer Sierra-Grobbelaar, for her dedication and volunteerism of several South Florida arts organizations, including the Carbonell Awards and the South Florida Theatre League.
In addition to recognizing the stars of today, the Carbonell Awards’ mission has always been to award scholarships to the talent of tomorrow in the fields of theater and journalism. The Jack Zink Memorial Carbonell Awards Scholarships awarded a total of $6,000 in scholarships to three high school seniors, one from each county, who were selected after a rigorous, merit-based selection process. The scholarships were awarded to Julia Dale (Broward County) who attends Western High School in Davie and will study musical theater and vocal performance at the Steinhardt School at New York University in New York City; Bailey Hacker (Miami-Dade County) who attends New World School of the Arts and plans to pursue a BFA in theater with a focus on acting and directing; and Maura C. Wilson (Palm Beach County) who attends Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach and plans to pursue a BFA in theater and technical design, specifically scenic and lighting design.
The Carbonell Awards, a not-for-profit organization, is funded by tax-deductible donations and award sponsorships. The generosity of this year’s sponsors shows a growing commitment from the community to the Carbonell Awards and their mission to advance theater in South Florida.
This 43rd annual Carbonell Awards was sponsored by the Actors’ Equity Association, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, Bee Free Media, Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Broward Cultural Division, Carbonell Family, Rita & Jerome Cohen, Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, CultureForce, Knight Foundation, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, Miami-Dade County Auditorium, South Florida Cultural Consortium, South Florida Theatre League, South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, Mark Traverso, WLRN Public Media, WTVJ-NBC and WOW MKTG.
Below is a complete list of this year’s Carbonell Award winners, followed by a breakdown of the awards by county, theater and production.
Carbonell Awards 2018 Winners
Best New Work (play or musical)
- Christopher Demos-Brown, Wrongful Death and Other Circus Acts, Zoetic Stage
Best Production of a Play
- Indecent, Palm Beach Dramaworks
Best Director, Play
- Stuart Meltzer, Wrongful Death and Other Circus Acts, Zoetic Stage
Best Actor, Play
- Caleb Scott, Dancing Lessons, Zoetic Stage
Best Actress, Play
- Betsy Graver, Queen of Basel, Miami New Drama
Best Supporting Actor, Play
- Jay Russell, Indecent, Palm Beach Dramaworks
Best Supporting Actress, Play
- Niki Fridh, Tar Beach, Theatre Lab
Best Production of a Musical
- Memphis, Slow Burn Theatre Company
Best Director, Musical
- Bruce Linser, Woody Guthrie’s American Song, Palm Beach Dramaworks
Best Actor, Musical
- Brian Golub, Memphis, Slow Burn Theatre Company
Best Actress, Musical
- Anna Lise Jensen, Bridges of Madison County, Slow Burn Theatre Company
Best Supporting Actor, Musical
- Michael L. Walters, Pirates of Penzance, The Wick Theatre
Best Supporting Actress, Musical
- Jeni Hacker, Fun Home, Zoetic Stage
Best Musical Direction
- Sean Powell, Woody Guthrie’s American Song, Palm Beach Dramaworks
- Patrick Fitzwater, Memphis, Slow Burn Theatre Company
Best Scenic Design, play or musical
- Christopher and Justin Swader, One Night in Miami, Miami New Drama
Best Lighting Design, play or musical
- Paul Black, Indecent, Palm Beach Dramaworks
Best Costume Design, play or musical
- Dawn C. Shamburger, The Revolutionists, Theatre Lab
Best Sound Design, play or musical
- Brad Pawlak, Indecent, Palm Beach Dramaworks
Best Ensemble (play or musical)
- Indecent, Palm Beach Dramaworks
Awards by County
- 10 Palm Beach
- 6 Miami-Dade
- 4 Broward
- Awards by Theater
- 7 Palm Beach Dramaworks
- 4 Slow Burn Theatre Company
- 4 Zoetic Stage
- 2 Miami New Drama
- 2 Theatre Lab
- 1 The Wick Theatre
Awards by Production
- 5 Indecent, Palm Beach Dramaworks
- 3 Memphis, Slow Burn Theatre Company
- 2 Woody Guthrie’s American Song, Palm Beach Dramaworks
- 2 Wrongful Death and Other Circus Acts, Zoetic Stage
- 1 The Bridges of Madison County, Slow Burn Theatre Company
- 1 Dancing Lessons, Zoetic Stage
- 1 Fun Home, Zoetic Stage
- 1 One Night in Miami, Miami New Drama
- 1 The Pirates of Penzance, The Wick Theatre
- 1 Queen of Basel, Miami New Drama
- 1 The Revolutionists, Theatre Lab
- 1 Tar Beach, Theatre Lab