Thursday, June 7, 2012

U of I's Crystal A. Dickinson Wins Theatre World Award!

The annual Theatre World Awards, which honor performers making their debuts in "significant" Broadway or Off-Broadway productions, were handed out at an awards ceremony at the Belasco Theatre Tuesday night. Among the honorees: Crystal A. Dickinson, currently appearing on Broadway in "Clybourne Park," who earned her MFA with the University of Illinois Department of Theatre.

Dickinson plays Francine and Lena in the different eras represented in "Clybourne Park," which won playwright Bruce Norris the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as the Olivier for Best Play for its London production. Dickinson's bio notes that she was in the company of "Clybourne Park" Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizon and in LA at the Mark Taper Forum. Her resume includes "Broke-ology" at Lincoln Center, "Ruined" at Manhattan Theatre Club, and 'The First Breeze of Summer" with Soho Rep, as well as a stint at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival and the recurring role of Melissa in Tyler Perry's "House of Payne."

The Theatre World Awards are in their 68th year of celebrating Broadway and Off-Broadway newcomers, with past recipients like Jon Michael Hill (another U of I grad), Lin-Manuel Miranda, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis, Jude Law, Audra McDonald, Mary Louise Parker, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, John Malkovich, Danny Glover, Meryl Streep, Ben Vereen, Jane Alexander, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Liza Minnelli, James Earl Jones, Alan Alda, Carol Burnett, George C. Scott, Jason Robards, Barbara Cook, James Dean, Rosemary Harris, Carol Channing, Julie Harris, Marlon Brando and, in the very first year back in 1945, Judy Holliday. Father and son Alan and Adam Arkin both won, as did husband and wife Warren Beatty and Annette Bening.

According to the Theatre World Awards site, "The Theatre World Award remains the oldest award given for a debut theatre performance on or Off-Broadway. The contribution this Award has made to the theatre is incalculable. It is not a competition and is it only given once. Because it is given for a debut performance, it encourages and inspires newcomers to the stage to continue to pursue their dream. It is freely given at a time when encouragement is so necessary in an industry known more for rejection than reception."

2012 Theatre World Awards Poster created by Justin 'Squigs' Robertson

This year's class of honorees, caricatured in the wonderful poster, reprinted above with permission of the Theatre World Awards, included Tracie Bennett ("End of the Rainbow"), Phillip Boykin ("Porgy and Bess"), Russell Harvard ("Tribes"), Jeremy Jordan ("Bonnie and Clyde"), Joaquina Kalukango ("Hurt Village"), Jennifer Lim ("Chinglish"), Jessie Mueller ("On a Clear Day You Can See Forever"), Hettienne Park ("Seminar" and "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism & Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures"), Chris Perfetti ("Sons of the Prophet"), Finn Wittrock ("Death of a Salesman") and Josh Young ("Jesus Christ Superstar").

Susan Pourfar ("Tribes") was named this year's the recipient of the Dorothy Loudon Award for Excellence in the Theater.


  1. The Theatre World Awards have long fascinated me. They're kind of a guessing game at times: we think these newcomers will amount to something, let's check back in 10 years and see.

    And of course (unlike Ms. Dickinson) they may be newcomers only to the specific Broadway venue and already have some recognition in other areas. That was true in 1994-95, when their ten choices were Gretha Boston (Show Boat), Billy Crudup (Arcadia), Ralph Fiennes (Hamlet), Beverly D'Angelo (Simpatico), Calista Flockhart (The Glass Menagerie), Kevin Kilner (The Glass Menagerie), Anthony LaPaglia (The Rose Tattoo), Julie Johnson (Das Barbec├╝), Helen Mirren (A Month in the Country), Jude Law (Indiscretions), Rufus Sewell (Translations), Vanessa Williams (Kiss of the Spider Woman), It's a fine group, but Fiennes, Mirren, and Sewell, at least, were appearing as distinguished visitors with UK stage history who happened not to have played Broadway before, Beverly D'Angelo had been a movie star, and Vanessa Williams was already an ex-Miss America and a musical artist. Still, Calista Flockhart, Kevin Kilner, Billy Crudup, and Jude Law did well for themselves, didn't they?

    And sometimes even the best can slip through their net: Laura Benanti and Robert Sean Leonard (on a random search) never got a TW Award. I imagine if you don't get chosen in your debut performance, you've missed your chance.

  2. Yes, exactly. I tried to include people on my list who were not already stars by the time they hit Broadway, like Hugh Jackman and Antonio Banderas. So it's lovely to know that Al Pacino, Alan Alda and James Earl Jones were not the big star versions of those people when they won.

    I hadn't thought about Laura Benanti or Robert Sean Leonard -- and it may simply be that their debuts on Broadway were not in large or showy roles -- but I did notice that Laura Osnes wasn't given one, although her "Bonnie and Clyde" co-star Jeremy Jordan was. I'm sure if "Bonnie and Clyde" had been her Broadway debut instead of the less-than-beloved "Grease" revival she did, she would've been there, too. Of course, without that "Grease," she might not have gotten the roles in "Anything Goes" and "Bonnie and Clyde," anyway.

  3. I looked into all 3 of those cases a little, and they turned out to be illustrations of the "it's really hard to make this call sometimes" principle, as well as "I'm glad I'm not the one whose job it is to do this."

    Laura Benanti first appeared (at 18!) in the chorus of "The Sound of Music." I don't think they'd necessarily count chorus work against a person as a debut (as that's where so many start); they'd probably wait for an actual role. But then what she did was take over Maria (at 19!) from Rebecca Luker, a year into the run. They do sometimes catch replacements, if they're favorably noted enough. But this smacked at the time of being a publicity gimmick (I even thought that a bit myself, to my shame): who knows if this kid will have any staying power? Then after SoM closed, she went into "Swing!" (which DID get a TW Award for Ann Hampton Callaway, a well-established cabaret and recording artist), confirmed she had the stuff, and by then it was too late.

    Even more of a gimmick-laden debut: Laura Osnes, winner of the "Grease" reality competition. So she got noticed, and played the lead on opening night in a big revival -- but would someone like that actually be any good in the long run? They guessed no, and were wrong. And again, by the time she was Kelli O'Hara's alternate (during maternity leave etc.) in "South Pacific," the moment had passed.

    Robert Sean Leonard is a different case. He debuted off-Broadway at 16 with Circle Rep, in a play ("The Beach House") that ran 2 months. Easy to overlook. And then a year later he was on Broadway as the last Eugene Jerome in "Brighton Beach Memoirs," also not going to get a lot of scrutiny as so many young actors had passed through the play. And other smallish parts after that (I saw one of them them, "Breaking the Code," and have no memory of seeing him at all). Some career arcs just aren't conducive to this sort of debut recognition.

    On the other hand, a year ago, with Ellen Barkin, Grace Gummer, John Larroquette, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto -- those are no-brainers.