As some of you know, I have been giving out Tootsie Pops for many years to people in the theatre as a way of saying, “Thank you for making the theatre so special for me.” Instead of doing top 10 lists of the best theatre and performances of the year, I do the Tootsie Awards, which are personal, eclectic, whimsical, and totally subjective. Here are this year’s winners.
The Guts-of-a-Bandit Award
Benjamin Blais and his team at Storefront Theatre
They were told by the landlord they would have to leave their Bloor St. West site by the end of January 2017. Blais took this as a positive to find another venue and grow the company. Tough Jews, produced in the basement of a Kensington Street venue, was the result. And it sold out.
The Jon Kaplan Mensch Award
(Renamed from the John Harvey/Leonard McHardy Mensch Award, in honour of Jon Kaplan, the long-serving senior theatre writer/reviewer/interviewer for NOW Magazine who died April 28, 2017, and showed us what class, graciousness, generosity of spirit, love of the theatre and its creators, and being a mensch was all about)
For starting a movement in Toronto theatres and environs to permanently reserve a seat for Jon Kaplan in memoriam.
For noticing that no women were commemorated in mentorship chairs at the new Streetcar Crowsnest and began a push to have Mallory Gilbert, a pioneer in theatre administration at Tarragon Theatre, recognized for her work. The outpouring of financial support also funded a mentorship chair for Marigold Charlesworth and Jean Roberts, who co-founded and co-artistic directed some of the leading theatres in this country.
The Gloriously Herself Award
For her wonderful and important show, Unapologetically Me: Sharron’s Cabaret for Kids, in which she talks and sings to young people about the importance of being true to yourself, being proud of who you are, and how no one should have the right to take that away from you. She is fearless and she leads by loving example. This show should be done everywhere all the time.
The He-Can-Do-Anything Award
For writing, composing, and acting in trace, about three generations of women in his family. He played all the parts and while I was not keen on the production, Jeff Ho’s creative abilities are undeniable. And he also gave one of the most touching performances of Ophelia (in Why Not Theatre’s production of Prince Hamlet) I have ever seen.
The Dynamic Duo Award
Lily Ling and Jamie Drake
She was the musical director and co-orchestrator of the Talk is Free Theatre’s production of Candide in Barrie, Ont., playing the Leonard Bernstein piano reduction for the piece with grace and drive. He was the percussionist and co-orchestrator of the show, and his percussion creations were awesome.
The Triple-Threat Award
For his creation of Plumbum, the makeup-challenged, sassy, garish fashion statement in neon colours and spandex in the Ross Petty Production of A Christmas Carol. For his performance as Frank Carter, the suave, dashing husband and father with a secret in Life After. And for his performance of Miss Trunchbull, the mean-spirited, children-hating, tight-corseted head mistress in Matilda. (I know this was last year! These are my awards and I can play fast and loose with timing to make a point.) Chameroy played all of these with distinction, nuance, detail, and such confidence, and he sings beautifully too.
The Not-Just-Another-Actor-Paying-His-Dues Award
Starred in Superior Donuts as the dour donut shop owner, played in Picture This as the movie star with many kinds of appetites, and was both the Fool in King Lear and Malvolio in Twelfth Night before illness took him out of those shows. Every part he plays is full of heart, humanity, and a quirky humour that just grabs you.
Perfect Set Right-Down-to-the-Cigarette-Butts-in-the-Moulding-of-the-Wall Award
For her simple and effective set design for The Aliens, in which she put cigarette butts in the creases of the moulding on the wall as you entered the theatre. (Characters smoked all the time in the play.) You wouldn’t see the butts unless by accident, but Ms. Dehbonehie isn’t interested in whether you see them or not—it just goes to establish the whole perfect set.
So Long and Thanks for All Things Fringe and the Hot Chocolate Award
Kelly Straughan became the executive director of the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2012 and left it this year in great shape: increased attendance, broader scope of performances, and still wonderful hot chocolate served in the tent. All the best in your new adventure.
The One(s) to Watch Award
He made his Toronto debut in The Aliens playing the awkward, halo-haired Evan, a misfit wanting to belong. Beautiful performance.
She played Dahlia the brothel madam in the Randolph College for the Performing Arts’ production of Moll. She was seductive, tough, charming, formidable, and ruthless in that role.
She directed The Mess with care and thoughtfulness in a tight space—a storage container—with the audience up close to the action. Her direction is bracing, muscular, and sensitive. She is also a compelling actress (this past summer in the Stratford production of The Changeling).
The Bursting with Joy and Heartbreak, and Please Pass the Kleenex Award
Dancing at Lughnasa
At the Shaw Festival. Brian Friel’s ache of a play about the five Mundy sisters as remembered by Michael, one of their sons. Full of love, anxiety about the future, love, pent-up emotions set free to frenzied Celtic music (thanks to John Gzowski), and love. Directed beautifully by Krista Jackson.
Brilliant in Any Language Award
Mr. Shi and His Lover
At the Tarragon Theatre. Based on a true story about French diplomat Bernard Boursicot who had an affair with a Chinese opera singer for twenty years, thinking the person was a she only to learn she was a he—Mr. Shi of the title. Performed in Mandarin with English surtitles. Starring Jordan Cheng as Mr. Shi and Derek Kwan as Boursicot. From the acting to the singing to the design and direction, every part of this beautiful production worked a treat.
The Moving with Grace and Dancing into the Sunlight Award
Theatre Rusticle’s beautiful rendering of Thornton Wilder’s classic play about neighbourly love and respect. Directed with exquisite detail and heart by Allyson McMackon.
We Don’t Need a Physics Theorem to Explain a Play About How Two Unlikely People Fall in Love Award
Simon Stephens’ play was given an exquisite production: simply directed by Matthew Jocelyn, beautifully acted by Carly Street and David Schurmann, and elegantly designed by Teresa Przybylski. Two unlikely souls meet—by accident? by design?—and fall in love.
The Beauty of Having Wonder in Your Life Award
The Bad Hats Theatre production of this beloved classic, remounted in Soulpepper’s holiday programming. Adapted with whimsy by Fiona Sauder and Reanne Spitzer and directed by breathtaking imagination by Severn Thompson, the production fills your heart with happiness and tweaks your imagination into the heavens. Wonderful.
Lynn Slotkin has been theatre critic for Intermission since October 2017. As of January 2018, she will be returning to the Slotkin Letter. To keep up to date with her reviews, follow her blog here.