By Dee Jae Cox
The Antoinette Perry Award, other wise known as the ‘Tony,’ was established in 1947 as a means of honoring the outstanding performances, productions and talent that gives life to the Broadway shows. The award is named after Antoinette Perry, nicknamed Tony. Perry was an actress, director, producer and co-founder of the American Theatre Wing, who died in 1946.
Each city and town across America recognize the need to honor and reward the dedicated actors, directors, writers and crew that work their craft and magic on the stages across the country and have established their own version of the “Tony”.
The Coachella Valley has the Desert Theatre League (DTL), a non-profit organization that was founded in 1987, and whose mission is to support and cultivate theatre in the Coachella Valley. The DTL annually sponsors the Desert Stars Awards to recognize outstanding achievement in theatre arts. The Awards celebration is normally held each fall, and though the Covid-19 pandemic forced many theatres to go dark before the end of their season, the DTL determined that enough of the productions had occurred to allow them to move forward with the Awards, with one major change, there will not be a physical gathering of the nominees in 2020.
The nominees were announced on August 1, 2020 and the winners will be posted on the DTL website in October.
The awards are vitally important. They allow theatre professionals to be acknowledged for their outstanding work. One critical category that I noticed missing from the DTL Star Awards is for “Playwright.” Where would theatre be without playwrights? Though I realized that the majority of plays and musicals produced in the Coachella Valley may not be new or original, it’s hard to believe that there are zero original productions. (If that is true, then we have an even bigger challenge to address.). One specific production that I reviewed this year and know to be an original was June August’s, “Sexy Widows.” Wayne Abravanel, was nominated for Outstanding Musical Director of a Musical – Professional, for this show, but alas, no recognition of the writer. (Or any writer.)
Actress/Singer Keisha D, was awarded the Life Time Achievement Award. Having personally worked with Keisha and being an appreciative audience member for many of her shows, I could not think of anyone more deserving than this beautiful and talented performer. Keisha D, is the heart of the desert performing arts community.
The following is a partial list of the nominees. (The complete list can be seen at https://deserttheatreleague.org/2020-nominees).
The Michael Cruickshank Award for Outstanding Director of a Drama
Shawn Abramowitz – Adoption Roulette – Desert Ensemble Theatre Co.
Katie Fleischman – The Glass Menagerie – Theatre 29
Darryl Jacobs – Other Desert Cities – Sun City Shadow Hills
Michael Pacas – 12 Angry Men – Desert Theatreworks
The Michael Cruickshank Award for Outstanding Director of a Drama – Professional
Darin Anthony – Daniel’s Husband – Dezart Performs
Darin Anthony – Dinner with Friends – Coachella Valley Repertory
Dr. William Layne – The Crucible – Palm Canyon Theatre
Michael Shaw – Sweat – Dezart Performs
Chuck Yates – A Doll’s House Part 2 – Coyote StageWorks
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama
Sean Timothy Brown – The Crucible – Palm Canyon Theatre
Chris Fleischman – The Glass Menagerie – Theatre 29
Fergus Loughnane – Adoption Roulette – Desert Ensemble Theatre Co.
Luke Rainey – The Crucible – Palm Canyon Theatre
Eddie Stephens – 12 Angry Men – Desert Theatreworks
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama – Professional
Cortez Johnson – Sweat – Dezart Performs
Corydon Melgoza – Sweat – Dezart Performs
Jerry Prager – 12 Angry Men – Desert Theatreworks
Michael Shaw – Daniel’s Husband – Dezart Performs
David Youse – Daniel’s Husband – Dezart Performs
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama
Jan Briggs – Other Desert Cities – Sun City Shadow Hills
Desiree Clarke – Sweat – Dezart Performs
Adina Lawson – Adoption Roulette – Desert Ensemble Theatre Co.
Shirley LeMaster – Murder on the Orient Express – Desert Theatreworks
Donna Parrish – Other Desert Cities – Sun City Shadow Hills
Katherine Wehler – A Streetcar Named Desire – Thought Theatre
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama – Professional
Theresa Jewett – Sweat – Dezart Performs
Robin McAlpine – A Doll’s House Part 2 – Coyote StageWorks
Jennifer Sorenson – Dinner with Friends – Coachella Valley Repertory
Yo Younger – Adoption Roulette – Desert Ensemble Theatre Co
I was fortunate enough to see a good percentage of these shows and the nominees only serve to remind me of what incredible theatre we have here in the desert. It would be impossible for me to make a choice between Ron Celona’s breathtaking direction of Ballroom – (Coachella Valley Repertory,) and Se Layne’s – magical direction of Peter Pan. (Palm Canyon Theatre.)
Or Yo Younger’s deeply moving performance in Adoption Roulette (Desert Ensemble Theatre Co,) vs Robin McAlpine in A Doll’s House Part 2 – (Coyote StageWorks.), or Theresa Jewett in Sweat – (Dezart Performs.) Michael Shaw and David Youse both brought me to tears in Daniel’s Husband. (Dezart Performs.)
Just reviewing the list of incredible nominees ignites my craving for live theatre. Find ways to support the ongoing effort of our desert theatres. Visit their websites and view their virtual shows or educational programs. They continue to collaborate and work on ways to keep theatre alive during these challenging times.
Congratulations to all of the nominees!
Dee Jae Cox is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director of The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project.