The Jello Covered Grapes Annual Volunteer Choice Awards


Sunset Playhouse‘s Annual Volunteer Choice Awards were last night and everything about them made me feel so proud, so utterly delighted, to be connected with such a fabulous network of people. But before I begin delivering my run-down of the evening’s events I must first share my amazing new culinary discovery from the reception for those of you who can’t abide reading more than a paragraph or two of blogs: Tim Gensler’s much discussed and highly sought after…

Jell-o Powder Covered Grapes

grapesAccording to Gensler, one of Sunset’s resident Jacques-of-All-Trades and chef extraordinaire for the evening’s appetizers, you take the grapes, right? And you get ’em a little wet– not too wet or they get all clumpy– and dust them with Jell-o powder; cherry for the red grapes, lime for the green. Pop ’em in the fridge or the freezer for about an hour to get them to firm up a little, and voilà: A tasty summertime snack guaranteed to get a hundred+ people asking “what those little grape looking things are” and then coming back for seconds, and thirds, of “whatever the heck they are.”

“Let’s go out to the lobby…”

Sunset’s special night officially began at 6pm with a wine/ beer/ soda bar in the lobby, catering to some of the choicest mingling this actress is likely to experience until next year’s awards show. Everywhere you turned was a person, a conversation, a memory which served as a brilliant reminder of why this room was filled with all these people in the first place: We love creating theatre together.

What a place!

(And thank you thank you thank you to Jean J. and Chuck U. for the wonderful conversation and the extremely kind words. You warmed my heart more than you can possibly know!)

The Awards Ceremony…

…got rolling at 7pm with a song from Vasiliki Fafalios, an area high school student participating in Sunset’s “Rising Stars” program. It sounded like no one in the audience realized she was so young until we were told as much after her delightful rendition of “You’re the Top,” at which time the audience was filled with whispers of “She’s in high school?!” I’m fairly certain it’s a good sign when you leave an entire audience shocked by your age in the wake of your obvious talent.

Next on the stage was MC Ken Smith, presumably given the honor because he has the best beard on the Board of Directors. Hey: When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. He introduced Inge Adams who was to present the award for Best Supporting Actor. It went to David Kaye for his performance as Tim Allgood in Noises Off, but unfortunately dude wasn’t there to receive it. I made sure to give him what for on Facebook as soon as I got home, though, so that’s all taken care of.

Cindy Zauner then floated onto the stage in a lovely… in a colorful… in… in– well in just a joltingly godawful mess of a bridesmaid’s dress to sing “Always A Bridesmaid” from I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! As though I didn’t have enough reasons for being terribly disappointed in myself for not seeing that show, I can now add this little number to my list of reasons to kick myself for missing it. Cindy was too stinkin’ funny. The audience ate her up.

The only award one can give when dressed in something so, so, so terribly unattractive is, naturally, the award for Best Costume Design, which went to Sue Fromm for her work on Escanaba in da Moonlight. Rock on, Sue! Besides being one of the sweetest people on Sunset’s volunteer roster, she’s also quite the talented hand at dressin’ folks it would seem. She certainly got my vote.

Social Security: S. Loveridge, B. Krah

Social Security: S. Loveridge, B. Krah

Bryce Lord, director of this Spring’s Social Security, had the opportunity to present the award for Best Supporting Actress to one of his own: Bonnie Krah. I could fill an entire blog entry with praise for Bonnie, but I would no doubt lose the few of you still reading due to the length of it, so I’ll leave it at this: Bonnie Krah was hands down the best choice for this award. She gave a fantastic performance and the voting could not possibly have gone any other way. Bonnie was also not in attendance, much to my dismay, so I shall have to rib her good naturedly for it the next time I see her before proceeding with my usual Bonnie Accolades.

Another musical number to keep things hoppin’? Don’t mind if I do! Kyle Breitzman performed “Luck Be A Lady” because he figured, as Ken Smith shared with us, “It’s short, easy, and relevant.” Smart fellow, that Breitzman. Smart indeed.

Brenda Gravelle, last year’s recipient of the Unsung Hero Award, presented this year’s to Sue Fromm, who you may remember from such awards as Best Costume Design. Way to rake ’em in, Sue. There’s a lot of heart and a lot of drive in that woman. An asset to any company and dearly appreciated by Sunset.

Best Lighting Design went to Marty Wallner for Escanaba, presented via a flip tablet by Erika Navin, winner of the Ruth Arnell’s Annual Best Glasses Award. Marty really pulled off some pretty neat effects in this one that were hopefully as much fun for him to put together as they were for us in the audience to watch.

Escanaba: R. Zimmerman, A. Lien, J. Bloomingdale, M. Patten, G. Villa

Escanaba in da Moonlight: R. Zimmerman, A. Lien, J. Bloomingdale, M. Patten, G. Villa

Mark Salentine’s remarks on the importance of sound design in theatre, a fun little giggle-inducer to remind us all how much we truly depend on ringing phones and Jan Pritzl, was delightfully punctuated by Matthew Patten, the presenter of the Old-Timer Award to Inge Tiberius Adams. Wait- scratch that. Make that the Newcomer Award to Andy Lien. Lien swears up and down he hasn’t acted since high school, but his spot on comic timing and delivery in Escanaba sure do make a body wonder. Terrific actor, friendly guy, can grow a decent beard; Lien’s a gem and Sunset’s all the better for having found him.

More music? Bring it on! The fourth song of the evening was from next season’s Mid-life! The Crisis Musical, with Mark Salentine and Doug Jarecki as Mary DeBattista’s hapless, helpless would-be lovers. There’s something so charming about a woman who can maintain artistic composure and powerful breath support while straddling a park bench…

Jacquelyn Ranallo and Lena Tomaszek went home with the No Small Parts Award from Anne Gorski for their contributions in I Love You… It was kind of a cute award to see given as the adorable Tomaszek had been the one actually handing out all of the evening’s awards. It was nice seeing her finally get to hang on to one!

Doug Jarecki and Jason Powell were up next with a little improv game (the Alphabet Game, for the curious among you) to entertain the troops, who were duly entertained. Incidentally, JASON POWELL’S HILARIOUS ORIGINAL MUSICAL COMEDY INVADER? I HARDLY KNOW HER! OPENS AT THE ALCHEMIST THEATER ON SEPTEMBER 10, 2009, which is cool.

Same Time...: C. Gamino, S. Hughes

Same Time…: C. Gamino, S. Hughes

Doug was also there to present this year’s Best Actress Award to a very talented young woman, Sarah Laak Hughes, for her performance in Same Time Next Year. This was another show I did not get to see, but having seen Sarah’s work elsewhere I can only agree wholeheartedly with the vote on this one as I’m sure she was teriffic in the role. Not to mention the mad props you’re almost duty-bound to give to any actor who survives a two person show with their sanity so graciously intact.

The Best Actor Award, presented by Mary DeBattista, went to Matthew Patten for his performance in Escanaba and I figure there’d’ve been a bona fide mutiny had he not won for his work in that show. You want a brilliant character actor? This guy’s the real deal, and he works flatullance-joke-loving audiences like a charm. And no, they did not let him keep the red long underwear.

An Awards Night tradition I was glad to see continue was that of Mark Salentine delivering a review of the season as a whole to the tune of a well known song from a musical. This year’s review, to the tune of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, allowed us to reminisce together about the joys of Sarah Laak Hughes, and the pain of patrons who are shocked at the idea that infidelity might make its way into a plot. Ah theatre.

A Sunset original, the Rudy Award, is presented every year by Rudy Miskowitch to a volunteer who goes above and beyond the call of duty to bring the season’s productions to a whole new level of quality through their hard work and dedication. This year’s recipient was Marty Wallner, a man who embodies the phrase “to know ‘im is to love ‘im.” Congratulations Marty!

Escanaba: J. Bloomingdale, A. Lien, M. Patten, R. Zimmerman

Escanaba in da Moonlight: J. Bloomingdale, A. Lien, M. Patten, R. Zimmerman

The biggest award of the night, Best Show, was presented by Sunset’s new Managing Director Jonathan West, he of bow-ties-and-blogging fame. The top three nominees were Those Crazy Ladies in the House on the Corner, Escanaba in da Moonlight, and Noises Off. And the award goes to: ESCANABA IN DA MOONLIGHT!

I couldn’t see this award going anywhere else. If Sunset could remount one production to present year after year with the same direction, actors, and set, it would have to be this one. Featuring an absolute dream cast under the delightful direction of Mark Salentine (and my God do you see the costumes and the set in these pictures?! Gorgeous!), this was far and away my favorite show of the year and a true testament to the professional quality theatre one finds at Sunset Playhouse.

Another “Rising Star” at Sunset, high school student Allie Babich, brought the awards ceremony to a close with a performance of “Stars and Moon” which I heard one audience member say brought tears to his eyes. When people tell this young lady “You’ll go places, kid!” I sure hope she knows they aren’t just whistlin’ Dixie. Beautiful voice, lovely presentation. Thank you Allie.

Reception

Tosa Jazz, directed by Donna Kummer, serenaded the audience into the studio theatre for a swingin’ reception. One thing for which you can always count on Sunset Playhouse is a delicious, buffet style spread at every event they host. Last night’s was no exception, and yes I went back for thirds. Oh and happy anniversary to Jim and Susan Loveridge! Y’all were so cute out there on the dance floor.

Music, dancing, food, wine, art, friends, laughter. We who had the opportunity to enjoy such things together on a warm, summer night should be thanking our lucky stars. And for those still looking for such a place of their own, well it’s real easy…

You take 94 West from Milwaukee and get off at the Mooreland Rd. North exit over by Brookfield Square Mall. Hang a right on Bluemound, a left on Elm Grove Rd., and a right on Wall St. Sunset Playhouse will be on your right. Shouldn’t miss it. ;)

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19 comments

  1. I feel thoroughly chastised by your what for, and deeply flattered, especially as I forgot to return my ballot, because I’m a horrible person.

  2. @ Amie: Wish you could’a been there- so fun! :) Ahhh…

    @ Inge: Your award may’ve been my favorite of the night. Congratulations. ;)

    @ David: *harrumph harrumph harrumph* Clearly you owe everyone who was there a cupcake. Go, man! Bake! Post haste!

    @ Jason: Yay Invader! :D

    @ Teri: I say we make him clean the lobby for it. Y’know– push around a vacuum cleaner for a while, maybe empty the trash cans, and then when he’s done he can take it with him since he’ll already be there. :D

  3. Well tomorrow Natasha is in a cupcake competition at The Irish Pub at 6. $5 let’s you try and vote on all the cupcakes and gets you a beer. Plus… 1 dollar burgers. Just saying :)

    1. Thank you, Mr. Kaye, for that totally unrelated but vital piece of information. Everyone! Go vote for Natasha’s cupcakes! They are scrrrrrrrrumptious (I imagine, having tried her other baked goods)!

  4. While wonderfully written, this overview of the event is incomplete without at least a perfunctory mention of Ruth Arnell’s stunning black halter dress accented with deep red, self-described “cute” shoes.

  5. Good blog, Ruth… though I confess that these awards every year are sooo deadly predictable. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sunset and they put out great shows (and I’m honored to be a part of them), but I guess I just don’t get it…

    1. Most of the awards I guessed a mile away myself, though a couple threw me. I think what I like most about them is that they present an opportunity for people’s contributions to be publicly acknowledged and honored, particularly work that’s happening behind the scenes. I actually wish Civic did something like this as well. It’s great not just as a social event, but as a means of giving a kind of public “thank you” that’s been voted on by your peers– it must be a cool feeling to win I think. :)

      Now go do an awesome job in “Mame” so everyone will vote for you and you’ll get stuck receiving an award next summer. Mwahaha. ;)

      1. Ruth – Thanks for “getting it.” You hit the nail right on the head as far as what the Volunteer Committee is meaning this night to be. The awards are secondary – the appreciation of what our volunteers do to make Sunset great is primary.

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