“Indecent” Wins Big at Emotional Carbonell Awards

"Indecent" at Palm Beach Dramaworks

Tears poured forth like the cocktails at Monday night’s Carbonell Awards at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, in an especially emotional ceremony honoring the past year’s excellence in South Florida theatre. I lost count of the number of winners who became choked up during their acceptance speeches; I, too, couldn’t hold back the waterworks during the performance of “Deportee” from Palm Beach Dramaworks’ “Woody Guthrie’s American Song,” which shattered me just as it had during last summer’s production.

To some extent, loose tears ducts were inevitable: The theatre community lost two of its most beloved Carbonell judges and supporters in 2018, Iris Acker and Tony Finstrom. Instead of a high-concept or comedic musical number to open the awards, showrunner Kevin Black began the only way that seemed appropriate: with a tender tribute to these departed friends, featuring fragments of songs from some of their favorite musicals.

But mostly, the actors, directors and designers who let their emotions flow did so out of exultation, not mourning, reminding us of theatre’s capacity to overcome hardships, to forge lasting communities, to confront injustice and incivility with bravery and compassion. In this climate, it’s perhaps no surprise that “Indecent,” Dramaworks’ breathtaking production of Paula Vogel’s play about artistic perseverance in an era of censorship and genocide, won five statues, the most of any production. Jay Russell offered the most eloquent description of the show’s transcendent merits in his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor in a Play, describing the experience of performing it as “the gift of a lifetime” and adding that “the versatility and talent” in the South Florida community is “unlike any I’ve seen across the country.”

Brian Golub, winner for Best Actor in a Musical, “Memphis”

Love for one’s peers rippled through the rest of the speeches as well, whether it was Bruce Linser’s humble acknowledgment that his Best Director of a Musical Carbonell for “Woody Guthrie” should be awarded to the entire cast and crew, given the collaborative nature of theatre. Or Michael McKeever’s acceptance of the honorary George Abbott Award, which began with a selfie of McKeever and the full house of attendees behind him, and ended with his assertion that he remains in South Florida—when he could be in New York, writing plays direct for Broadway—because of the people in that room last night. Or critic Bill Hirschman, who suffered traumas both emotional and physical with his wife, Oline, over the past several months, and expressed that he was eternally grateful for the abundance of well wishes, hospital visits and volunteering of time and resources he received from those same people.

With this lovefest came plenty of laughs, too. Michael L. Walters, who won the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical award for the Wick’s “Pirates of Penzance,” was quite the cutup, quipping, “Michael Walters could not be here to accept this award; I’m Angela Lansbury” and offering Marilynn Wick a not-too-subtle suggestion of three shows in which he would be perfect (“Three words: Fiddler. Hairspray. Producers.” Fair enough, though all three could be given a rest for the time being.)

Brian Golub, in his exuberant acceptance of Best Actor in a Musical for Slow Burn’s “Memphis,” included some prop humor: He unfurled a stream of thermal paper that spilled over the podium to the stage, claiming he wrote his speech “on my CVS receipt.” And in a hilarious—but appreciative, and utterly genuine—recurring motif, Anna Lise Jensen thanked fellow-actor Amy Tanner for getting “knocked up” by her husband Shane, which opened up the first of many roles for Jensen and ultimately to her first Carbonell Award last night, for Slow Burn’s “The Bridges of Madison County.”

Last night was a great one for a handful of local companies. Dramaworks, Zoetic Stage, Slow Burn and Theatre Lab all cleaned up, relatively. But it was a better night for the community at whole, with humility and togetherness trumping ego and competition. It was exactly what the Carbonell Awards should always be about.

Full list of winners

Best New Work (play or musical)

Christopher Demos-Brown, Wrongful Death and Other Circus Acts, Zoetic Stage

Best Production of a Play 

Indecent, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Best Director, Play 

Stuart Meltzer, Wrongful Death and Other Circus Acts, Zoetic Stage

Best Actor, Play 

Caleb Scott, Dancing Lessons, Zoetic Stage

Best Actress, Play 

Betsy Graver, Queen of Basel, Miami New Drama

Best Supporting Actor, Play 

Jay Russell, Indecent, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Best Supporting Actress, Play 

Niki Fridh, Tar Beach, Theatre Lab

Best Production of a Musical

Memphis, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Director, Musical 

Bruce Linser, Woody Guthrie’s American Song, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Best Actor, Musical 

Brian Golub, Memphis, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Actress, Musical 

Anna Lise Jensen, Bridges of Madison County, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Supporting Actor, Musical 

Michael L. Walters, Pirates of Penzance, The Wick Theatre

Best Supporting Actress, Musical 

Jeni Hacker, Fun Home, Zoetic Stage

Best Musical Direction

Sean Powell, Woody Guthrie’s American Song, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Best Choreography

Patrick Fitzwater, Memphis, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Scenic Design, play or musical 

Christopher & Justin Swader, One Night in Miami, Miami New Drama

Best Lighting Design, play or musical 

Paul Black, Indecent, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Best Costume Design, play or musical 

Dawn C. Shamburger, The Revolutionists, Theatre Lab

Best Sound Design, play or musical 

Brad Pawlak, Indecent, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Best Ensemble (play or musical) 

Indecent, Palm Beach Dramaworks