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CL's 21st Annual Charlotte Theater Awards

At times, there was an eerie sense of pre-history to the Charlotte theater scene in 2007. Alan Poindexter took us back to his diabolical Innovative Theatre days – before his ascent to Children's Theatre leadership via Rep's notorious Angels -- reappearing onstage in two cross-dressing roles in The Wizard of Oz. Former partner George Brown brought Innovative back for a peep at Spirit Square after a decade of hibernation.

If that didn't take you back far enough, you could toodle down Park Road. That's where Pineville Dinner Theater, shuttered before the Loaf Era began, was reborn. They weren't doing Night of the Iguana down there, but they were paying actors and satisfying many who remembered the original barn. Not to mention their grown-up children.

Rebirths took many shapes. John Hartness and Glenn Griffin, after dissolving their Off-Tryon Theatre Company in 2005, each aligned with new partners. Hartness and Chris O'Neill brought Carolina Shakespeare Company to Theatre Charlotte for the first sprinkling of summer Bard hereabouts since 1991, while Griffin resurrected OTTC's kinky side, partnering with Stuart Williams and Kristian Wedolowski in a new Queen City Theatre Company.

With Miss Coco Peru supplying the fundraising spark, emphasis was definitely on Queen.

Perhaps the most emphatic and triumphant return was Robert Simmons'. Remembered best for his youthful roles in Tracers and Steambath, the son of Carolina Actors Studio Theatre co-founder Michael Simmons had only acted intermittently in Charlotte in recent years -- at CAST or with the dearly departed Moving Poets. That changed big time in 2007, catapulting CAST back to the forefront, dramatically and technically, while sparking its first CL Company of the Year award.

If the new Caro Shakes and QC Theatre were paradigms of how to get a new company on its feet without Arts & Science Council funding, there were also new trails blazed in attracting -- and keeping -- new talent in the city. You could moonlight at Pineville Dinner, as Chris Hull did after making an impressive splash as the conflicted Rev. Hale in Theatre Charlotte's The Crucible. Or you could hang around for the fall season after a devastating debut at CPCC Summer Theatre.

That was the unique path taken by our runaway Newcomer of the Year, Caroline Bower. We gushed over her intensity in the title role of Thoroughly Modern Millie and were delighted when, instead of disappearing like many ace CP interns, she regressed back into pre-pubescence and adolescence to star in Wizard of Oz and The Christmas Doll at ImaginOn. In leaner years, some other candidates -- including Aisha Dew, Christy Johnson, Jason Mayfield, L-Jae Levine or Tania Kelly -- might have copped the Newcomer crown.

Of course, we ought to note the key role Tom Gabbard and the N.C. Blumenthal PAC are playing. Sure, they're carting in the big names like Cherry Jones and Richard Thomas, along with the hot tickets like Lion King, Edward Scissorhands, Spamalot, and Wicked. But they're also cultivating an audience for more intimate fare, importing such delicacies as Late Nite Catechism, Reduced Shakespeare and Man 1, Bank 0.

At the same time, PAC is fostering the local fringe at Duke Power Theatre, giving artists like Brown their shot and cherry picking mainstream theater excellence. Two prime local cherries would be the revival of Tanya Shuffler's Carrie Ann's Kiss and the PAC's own production of Wildwood Flowers: The June Carter Cash Musical. Featuring a bravura performance by Pamela Bob in the title role and notable contributions from two former CL Actresses of the Year -- co-author Angela Bennett and a wondrous Mother Maybelle from Gina Stewart -- Wildwood was artful enough to win our Best Musical honors.

So if the Char-Meck Arts & Science Council continues to look clueless in brokering arts funding to seed the local theater scene, Gabbard and the PAC are quietly fertilizing the soil, becoming the broker's broker.

Here are CL's 21st Annual Charlotte Theater Awards:


Aside from his acting exploits, Robert Lee Simmons built the mighty CAST "boxagon," making the Clement Avenue venue the coolest in town. When Simmons entered the post-9/11 soiree of Omnium Gatherum, he was not only reprising the role he originated at the Humana Festival in Louisville, he was giving us the first production since that premiere to be done on a revolving stage.

That cozy stage usually alternates with the previous space at the other side of building. But Simmons was instrumental in breaking that mold, too, co-designing the sets of a technically brilliant Dracula that used both CAST spaces imaginatively. Toss in the fact that Simmons played key roles in three of our Top 10 shows -- with three different theater companies -- and you have to conclude that this young man has truly arrived.

Alan Poindexter won his first Theaterperson crown back in 1993 when he was a wunderkind. Now he's the all-time leader with four triumphs. Creatively, he rejuvenated his acting chops with his scarifying exploits as the Wicked Witch of the West and Miss Gulch. But we also need to give him credit, while casting his wicked eye on the realm of musicals, for keeping Caroline Bower so delightfully in town when he directed The Wizard and the world premiere of The Christmas Doll.

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