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Running Smoke Rings Around the Competition

Theater * 'Reefer Madness!' and 'Summer and Smoke' dominate the annual Ovation Awards.

November 10, 1999|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES THEATER WRITER

Two shows in smaller theaters were smokin' at the annual Ovation Awards ceremony Monday.

"Reefer Madness!," a tongue-in-cheek adaptation of the famous anti-marijuana propaganda movie, won five awards--more than any other show--including best musical in a small theater. And its fans were easily the rowdiest at the ceremony, held at La Mirada Theatre.

When the entire cast trooped onstage to accept an ensemble award, accompanied by earsplitting cheers, Harry S. Murphy--who plays the show's stern narrator, used the same grim tone that he employs in the show to thank "anyone who ever inhaled."

Another production in the sub-100-seat arena, Fountain Theatre's revival of Tennessee Williams' "Summer and Smoke," took three Ovations. It was named best play in a small theater, and it garnered the best actress trophy for Tracy Middendorf, who faced the most star-studded field of the evening: Linda Lavin, Phyllis Frelich, Annette Bening and Ruby Dee. In thanking Cameron Dye, her co-star and "my partner on and off stage," Middendorf referred to "our new life that was conceived during 'Summer and Smoke' "--yes, she's pregnant.

The Geffen Playhouse production in which Lavin starred, Donald Margulies' "Collected Stories," was named best play in a large theater but won no other awards.

For best musical in a large theater, a revival of "West Side Story" by Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities upset such better-known competition as the touring "Cabaret" and the Tony-winning "Fosse"--but likewise triumphed only once.

After accepting the award for "West Side Story" from Carol Channing, South Bay impresario James Blackman quipped that he wanted "to apologize to God for praying at the last second that I would win so I could meet Carol Channing. I didn't know he was listening. I should have asked for world peace or something."

"Fosse," the revue that was seen at the Ahmanson Theatre prior to Broadway, snagged lighting and sound design and choreography awards to tie "Summer and Smoke" for the second most awards to a single show. Center Theatre Group, which hosted the L.A. run of "Fosse," won only two other awards for its shows at the Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre, but its total of five was still more than that for any other company except for the "Reefer Madness!" team.

The program, sponsored by Theatre LA, lacked a traditional emcee--the previously announced Jason Alexander withdrew from the hosting duties in late October, and last-minute appeals to other celebrities were unsuccessful. Sharon Lawrence and Alfred Molina welcomed the crowd before serving as the first presenters, and Bening delivered closing remarks after serving as the last presenter.

Still, the absence of a host monologue hardly eliminated all the laughs. Some of the outsize personalities who presented awards, such as Channing and Charles Nelson Reilly, provided comedy. Musical performances were introduced by Brian Beacock, dressed in drag as the vivacious Carol Ann Knippel, who runs the fictitious Melody Barn Dinner Theatre in the recently closed revue "Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly."

The musical performances were more polished than many of those at previous Ovations shows, because the selections were all from currently running shows: "Reefer Madness!," "It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues," "The Servant of Two Masters" and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." In past years, the musical numbers were frequently from nominated shows that had closed months earlier.

The touring company of "Cabaret," which had nine nominations--more than any other production--won no awards.

The Ovations eligibility season was from Sept. 1, 1998, to Aug. 31, 1999. Nearly 300 productions were registered for the competition, which is judged by representatives from the theaters and producers who belong to Theatre LA.

The Winners

* Play/Larger: "Collected Stories," Geffen Playhouse

* Play/Smaller: "Summer and Smoke," Fountain Theatre

* Musical/Larger: "West Side Story," Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

* Musical/Smaller: "Reefer Madness!," Dead Old Men Productions/Stephanie Steele at Hudson Theatre

* Writing of a World Premiere: Doug Motel, "Shiva Arms"

* New Translation/Adaptation: Kevin Murphy & Dan Studney, "Reefer Madness!"

* Director/Musical: Andy Fickman, "Reefer Madness!"

* Director/Play: Lauren Hollingsworth, "The Adding Machine"

* Leading Actor/Play: Christopher Plummer, "Barrymore"

* Leading Actress/Play: Tracy Middendorf, "Summer and Smoke"

* Leading Actor/Musical: Bob Simon, "Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Show"

* Leading Actress/Musical: Carolee Carmello, "Bells Are Ringing"

* Featured Actor/Play: Byron Jennings, "Hedda Gabler"

* Featured Actress/Play: Lee Garlington, "Risk Everything"

* Featured Actor/Musical: Joel Traywick, "The Last Session"

* Featured Actress/Musical: Yvette Cason, "Play On!"

* Ensemble Performance: cast of "Reefer Madness!"

* Set Design/Larger: Ming Cho Lee, "Enigma Variations"

* Set Design/Smaller: Kris Sandheinrich, "The Illusion"

* Costume Design/Larger: Howard Crabtree, "Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly"

* Costume Design/Smaller: Dick Magnanti, "Reefer Madness!"

* Lighting Design/Larger: Andrew Bridge, "Fosse"

* Lighting Design/Smaller: Kathi O'Donohue, "Summer and Smoke"

* Sound Design/Larger: Jonathan Deans, "Fosse"

* Sound Design/Smaller: John Zalewski, "One Flea Spare"

* Choreography: Bob Fosse & Ann Reinking, "Fosse"

* Board of Governors Lifetime Achievement Awards: Robert Fryer and Jerome Lawrence

* James A. Doolittle Award for Leadership in L.A. Theater: Audrey Skirball-Kenis and Charles Kenis

* Community Outreach Award: Los Angeles Poverty Department

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