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'Master Class' Beats 'Todd' by a Hair for Most Ovations : Stage: McNally's work edges East West Players' show with six honors, including best play in a larger theater.

November 15, 1995|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Master Class" was at the head of the class of the 1995 Ovation Awards, presented Monday at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.

Terrence McNally's portrait of opera diva Maria Callas' session with three young students, seen earlier this year at the Mark Taper Forum and now on Broadway, won six Ovations, including best play in a larger theater and honors for its star Zoe Caldwell and featured actress Audra McDonald.

East West Players' revival of "Sweeney Todd" took home five Ovations. One of those, for best musical in a smaller theater, is the only Ovation that carries a cash prize--$1,000 in honor of the late producer Franklin Levy.

Interact Theatre's revival of Elmer Rice's "Counsellor-at-Law" was named best play in a smaller theater and nabbed a total of four Ovations. "Disney's Beauty and the Beast," at the Shubert Theatre, won three awards, including best musical in a larger theater. It had garnered the most nominations--13--of any show.

With the six awards for "Master Class" and one prize each for "Smokey Joe's Cafe" and the touring production of "Angels in America," Center Theatre Group won a total of eight Ovations, more than any other company.

Although most of the "Master Class" winners were with the show in New York Monday and sent acceptances by proxy, the one who was in Cerritos, sound designer Jon Gottlieb, assured the crowd that the Ovation nominations were posted backstage at the Broadway theater where the show is playing. "This has ramifications all over," Gottlieb said.

Other than Caldwell, the winners of the major acting awards--Joe Garcia of Actors Alley's "The Puppetmaster of Lodz" and Sean Smith and Marcia Mitzman of Blank Theatre Co.'s "Chess"--accepted their awards in person, as did a large sampling of the more than 60 actors from the months-long run of "Counsellor-at-Law" who won the award for ensemble performance.

The Ovations are L.A.'s primary peer-judged theater awards, sponsored by Theatre LA, an organization of more than 130 theater companies and producers. In this--the second year of competitive Ovations--183 productions that ran between Sept. 1, 1994, and Aug. 31, 1995, registered for the competition.

For the second year, Mariette Hartley hosted the ceremony, this year making a number of wisecracks about the distance between Cerritos and most of the L.A. theaters. The program included numbers from seven of the nominated musicals. A stream of celebrities presented the awards, including Howard Hesseman, whose derisive remarks about Newt Gingrich drew the only heckling of the evening, as someone yelled, "Get off the soapbox!"

In accepting the previously announced lifetime achievement Ovation, David Emmes of South Coast Repertory spoke of "a vision of Southern California becoming like London--a major center of theater, film and television," while co-winner Martin Benson jokingly questioned whether receiving an award for lifetime achievement meant that he should schedule a physical exam.

The winners:

* Play/Larger: "Master Class," Mark Taper Forum

* Play/Smaller: "Counsellor-at-Law," Interact Theatre

* Musical/Larger: "Disney's Beauty and the Beast," Shubert Theatre

* Musical/Smaller: "Sweeney Todd," East West Players

* Writing of a World Premiere: Lee Murphy, "Catch a Falling Star"

* Translation/Adaptation: Kenneth Albers, "Medea"

* Director/Musical: Tim Dang, "Sweeney Todd"

* Director/Play: Leonard Foglia, "Master Class"

* Leading Actor/Play: Joe Garcia, "The Puppetmaster of Lodz"

* Leading Actress/Play: Zoe Caldwell, "Master Class"

* Leading Actor/Musical: Sean Smith, "Chess"

* Leading Actress/Musical: Marcia Mitzman, "Chess"

* Featured Actor/Play: Reg Flowers, "Angels in America"

* Featured Actress/Play: Audra McDonald, "Master Class"

* Featured Actor/Musical: Radmar Agana Jao, "Sweeney Todd"

* Featured Actress/Musical: Beth Fowler, "Disney's Beauty and the Beast"

* Ensemble Performance: cast of "Counsellor-at-Law"

* Set Design/Larger: John B. Wilson, "Man of La Mancha"

* Set Design/Smaller: Chris Tashima, "Sweeney Todd"

* Costume Design/Larger: Ann Hould-Ward, "Disney's Beauty and the Beast"

* Costume Design/Smaller: Barbara Ayers, "Counsellor-at-Law"

* Lighting Design/Larger: Brian MacDevitt, "Master Class"

* Lighting Design/Smaller: G. Shizuko Herrera, "Sweeney Todd"

* Sound Design/Larger: Jon Gottlieb, "Master Class"

* Sound Design/Smaller: John Rubinstein, "Counsellor-at-Law"

* Choreography: Joey McKneely, "Smokey Joe's Cafe"

* Lifetime Achievement: Martin Benson and David Emmes

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