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Queens Chronicle

Queens players in the running for theater awards

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Posted: Thursday, August 8, 2013 10:30 am

When the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation announced its annual award nominations in July, several groups and individual performers from Queens were well represented, for productions ranging from a classic British musical with a cult following to a superhero noir comedy about the dangers of love and a new musical farce set in Paris in 1899.

In May, the Astoria Performing Arts Center, a nonprofit organization founded in 2001 with the mission of bringing high-quality theater to Astoria, presented a limited engagement of “Blood Brothers,” a tragic tale of fraternal twins separated at birth that was originally developed as a school play and went on to become the third longest-running musical production in West End history.

The show was produced at APAC at the suggestion of the theater’s artistic director, Tom Wojtunik, who was taken by its themes and innate theatricality. In his inventive staging, the entire cast, and some musicians, remains on stage throughout, with the audience nearly engulfing the playing area.

Wojtunik now finds himself a nominee as Outstanding Director for his work, one of four nominations the show received.

“I was thrilled to find out I was nominated for directing ‘Blood Brothers’ at APAC. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever directed, and I’m really honored to be recognized for it,” Wojtunik said.

The show is also up for the set design by Stephen Dobay, the lighting design by Dan Jobbins, and as Outstanding Production of a Musical.

One of its competitors in the latter category is “That Lady from Maxim’s,” described as a “12-character musical menagerie of misguided misfits, mistaken identities and mirror-maze madness.”

Based on the play “La Dame de Chez Maxim,” by Georges Feydeau, the show, with book, music and lyrics by Bryan Williams, was presented by Isle of Shoals Productions, Inc., another nonprofit theater company, at this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival in July. Though it has not yet been performed in Queens, a large portion of its cast, all of whom have received IT nominations, has roots in the borough.

“This group had worked together before, the majority of us,” explained Cecilia Vaicels, who created the role of Gabrielle Petypon in the show. She described her character as “a very pious woman, a religious fanatic who has visions and sees miracles.”

For her participation, Vaicels has been nominated, along with the entire company, for Outstanding Ensemble.

“I was just speechless,” she said, when she learned of the nomination. “I’ve been doing this for 22 years. This is phenomenal. It’s like a Tony for off-off-Broadway shows. I’m still so excited I can’t stand myself.”

In all, the show received seven nominations, making it one of the leading contenders this year, the ninth time the awards are being presented.

In addition to the recognition it received for Outstanding Production of a Musical and its ensemble, the show is also up for Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role (Queens resident Amara Haaksman), Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role (Marissa Rosano), and Outstanding Director (Lance Hewett). Williams has been singled out in two categories, for his full-length script and original music.

“Oh, my God, I’d be ecstatic,” Vaicels said, faced with the prospect of winning. “Even if we got one of those awards it would be wonderful.” She admitted that having the ensemble honored as a whole “would be special.”

Sharing that nomination is fellow cast member Michael Buscemi, a lifelong Queens resident, who played Etienne, servant extraordinaire, in the show.

“They supposedly wrote this part for me. It’s a wonderful thing to create any kind of role. It’s been a wonderful experience doing it,” he said.

Also bringing pride to the borough with multiple nominations was the Flux Theatre Ensemble, a local troupe that has mounted 18 productions since 2006.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have been nominated for the fifth straight year, and for two different shows,” the group’s website says.

Receiving three of the group’s four nominations was “Hearts Like Fists,” a play about superheroes written by Adam Szymkowicz which ran at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City at the end of last year.

Writing about the show, the Chronicle’s theater critic noted, “Highest praise must be offered to Kelly O’Donnell, who directed with a seemingly endless supply of imagination.” O’Donnell has been nominated for her contributions, as have Becky Byers for Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role and Rocio Mendez Mendez and Adam Swiderski for Outstanding Choreography/Movement.

The group also picked up a nomination for Outstanding Original Full-Length Script for Johnna Adams’ play, “Sans Merci.”

The best part of the IT Awards, according to the group’s website, is “realizing just how wide and diverse the Indie Theatre Movement really is.”

This year, the NYITF, a nonprofit organization, bestowed nominations on a total of 60 productions and 134 individual artists. The awards will be presented at a ceremony on Sept. 30.

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