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Ovations Spread Applause Thin

Theater: Fifteen shows divide 20 awards, and 'Bring In 'Da Noise' and 'Great Men' top list with three each.


If L.A theater sometimes seems to be a shapeless beast, the annual Ovation Awards are designed to shine a spotlight on the best of the lot. But the 26 awards dispersed at Monday night's Ovations ceremony at the Shubert Theater in Century City were so wide-ranging it was still hard to discern any focus. That is in marked contrast to last year's ceremony, when "Ragtime" won eight Ovations, more than any other single show in the program's history.

At the top of this year's list were "Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk" and "Great Men of Science Nos. 21 & 22," each of which won three awards. The other 20 awards were divvied up among 15 shows.

The distribution of awards among producers and presenters was more lopsided, however, with Center Theatre Group picking up a total of nine, including seven for "Noise/Funk" and three other shows seen at the Ahmanson Theatre, and two for "The Cider House Rules," produced by the Mark Taper Forum. The upstart Circle X Theatre was the runner-up among production companies, with three awards for its "Great Men of Science."

"Cider House" had been the unquestioned leader in the nominations, garnering 13. Yet it was only at the end of the evening that CTG producer and artistic director Gordon Davidson stepped up to the stage to accept the award for best play in a larger theater for "Cider House." "I thought we'd never get up here," he remarked.

Nathan Lane was the jovial emcee for the event, making wisecracks about his jeopardized TV series "Encore! Encore!"--"more commonly known as 'No More! No More!' "--and recalling a moment when he was starring in "The Lisbon Traviata" at the Mark Taper Forum when a woman in the audience loudly asked the question, "Where's the plot?" He also released a stream of punch lines about the Drama-Logue Awards, with no acknowledgment that the awards went out of business earlier this year, along with their parent publication.

The star power of this year's Ovations night was dimmed by the absence of the two lifetime achievement winners, Ian McKellen and Terrence McNally, both of whom accepted their awards by previously recorded videotape. McKellen was working in repertory in England. Theatre LA, which sponsors the Ovations, had known of his unavailability long in advance and had added the second lifetime achievement award this year, partially in order to ensure that one of the winners would be on hand. But McNally, who was a presenter at last year's ceremony, informed Theatre LA of a change in plans about a week ago, according to a Theatre LA spokesman. McNally's agent Gilbert Parker declined comment about the reason other than to say it was "personal."

Two other noncompetitive awards were presented. Colony Studio Theatre producer and former Theatre LA President Barbara Beckley, whose company plans to move to a larger space within the next year, received the James A. Doolittle Award for leadership in L.A. theater. And the Imagination Workshop, which conducts theater workshops for at-risk individuals, won the first community outreach award, with co-founders Margaret Ladd and Lyle Kessler accepting.

Between the announcement of the nominations in late September and the awards ceremony, three of the nominations were changed. Denise Iketani of "Pacific Overtures" replaced Leigh Hetherington of "Rent" as a nominee for featured actress/musical when it was determined that Hetherington had not done the 12 L.A. performances required to qualify. Deaf West Theatre's "Romeo and Juliet: Circus Verona" replaced the Actors' Gang's "The Dressing Room" as a nominee for new translation/adaptation after it was learned that the adaptation of "The Dressing Room" had received an earlier reviewed production. And the previously uncited Derick K. Grant received the choreography nomination for "Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk" (and on Monday, the award) replacing the original nomination for Broadway choreographer Savion Glover.

The addition of Iketani's nomination increased the total nominations for "Pacific Overtures" to seven, which lifted it into a tie for the third most nominations with "Great Men of Science Nos. 21 & 22." However, "Overtures" picked up only two awards Monday--a status shared with "Valsetz," "Request Concert," "Chicago" and "Cider House Rules."

The winners:

* Play/Larger: "The Cider House Rules," Mark Taper Forum

* Play/Smaller: "Great Men of Science Nos. 21 & 22," Circle X Theatre Company at the Lost Studio

* Musical/Larger: "Chicago," Ahmanson Theatre

* Musical/Smaller: "On the Twentieth Century," Colony Studio Theatre

* Writing of a World Premiere: Pamela Forrest, "Valsetz"

* New Translation/Adaptation: Milena Albert, "The Seagull"

* Director/Musical: Tim Dang, "Pacific Overtures"

* Director/Play: Andrew J. Robinson, "Yield of the Long Bond"

* Leading Actor/Play: Tony Abatemarco, "The Mystery of Irma Vep"

* Leading Actress/Play: Patricia Place, "Valsetz"

* Leading Actor/Musical: Deven May, "Bat Boy"

* Leading Actress/Musical: Charlotte D'Amboise, "Chicago"

* Featured Actor/Play: Tom Beyer, "The Cider House Rules"

* Featured Actress/Play: Stephanie Faracy, "Two Rooms"

* Featured Actor/Musical: Wilson Cruz, "Rent"

* Featured Actress/Musical: Jennifer Leigh Warren, "Hello Again"

* Ensemble Performance: cast of "Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk"

* Set Design/Larger: John Napier, "An Enemy of the People"

* Set Design/Smaller: Gary Smoot, "Great Men of Science Nos. 21 & 22"

* Costume Design/Larger: Naomi Yoshida Rodriguez, "Pacific Overtures"

* Costume Design/Smaller: M.E. Dunn, "Great Men of Science Nos. 21 & 22"

* Lighting Design/Larger: Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, "Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk"

* Lighting Design/Smaller: Deena Lynn Mullen, "Request Concert"

* Sound Design/Larger: Red Ramona, "Old Wicked Songs"

* Sound Design/Smaller: Bob Blackburn, "Request Concert"

* Choreography: Derick K. Grant, based on original choreography by Savion Glover, "Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk"

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