And lo, it came to pass that on the second sabbath of the twelfth month, devout followers made their annual pilgrimage from near and afar for that most hallowed of thespian holidays, The Guilds. Show tops and trackie daks were spurned in favour of snappy suits and flowing frocks as the non-professional theatre community of Victoria descended upon Costa Hall, Geelong for the 29th MTGV Annual Awards Presentation. As the foyer bell rang, heralding the commencement of the ceremony, herding the audience into the auditorium was, as always, akin to ladling soup with a slotted spoon. But those comfortably nestled in their seats as the house lights dimmed were to be richly rewarded.

Musical Director Daniel Heskett’s overture was an hilarious, award-worthy production number in itself. His baton took on another meaning of the word as it was relayed from musician to musician as many members of his excellent 23-piece orchestra took turns conducting or swapping instruments, showing off their remarkable talents and versatility through an eclectic medley of showtunes. The beautifully choreographed mayhem was brought to order by the entrance of the maestro himself, who then displayed his own amazing chops in a trumpet solo. Heskett and his orchestra are to be hugely congratulated on their superlative work throughout the evening, not to mention the hours of preparation invested prior. Tough gig, but masterfully executed.

MTGV President Beverley Meldrum officially welcomed one and all, and acknowledged the herculean efforts of the judging panels, committee and all involved in the epic task of pulling this night of nights together. She then bestowed highly prestigious honours to three indisputably deserving recipients: The Musician’s Award to Bryn Bowen, The Edith Harrhy Award to Fran Boyd, and Lifetime Membership to Bev Woodford, testament to the incredible music theatre talent and passion that hails from The Peninsula. Little did we realise at this early point of the evening how this trend would continue.

Photo Credit: James Terry

Photo Credit: James Terry

David Crawshaw, Chair of the Junior Section Judging Panel, expressed his and his panel’s ‘pleasure and delight’ in seeing the 49 productions under their remit this year. Cranshaw particularly acknowledged the inventive and visionary choreography, and how encouraging it was to see past student involvement in various capacities of school productions. The standard of Junior Section performances at this year’s ceremony was outstanding across the board – special shout-outs to James Crozier’s comedy gold in ‘Gypsy in Me’ (St Michael’s Grammar School’s Anytihhg Goes) and St Columbia’s College’s super-slick ‘Steam Heat’ (The Pajama Game). And on a personal note, it wasn’t until later in the evening that I realised Hart Theatre Company’s ‘Pippin’- who nailed ‘Corner of the Sky’ – was my ‘Theo’ in MLOC’s Pippin back in 2011 (They grow up so fast… Well done Chris Burgess!). It is heartening to know that music theatre is alive and well, and there is another generation waiting in the wings to embrace the Open Section in years to come. In the ongoing debate as to whether or not The Guilds should segregate the Open and Junior award ceremonies, I’ve always been undecided. Tonight, I leant considerably towards keeping them inclusive, not so much as to what they can learn from us, but that we can be inspired by them. As well as five judges’ awards for excellence (Catchment Players, The Peninsula School, Horsham Arts Council, Notre Dame College, and Glen Waverley Secondary College), the Junior Section awards went to James Crozier and Daniel Mellow (Tied Male Performer in a Supporting Role), Julie Brown-Nafatali (Female Performer in a Supporting Role), Josh Gordon and Samuel Rowe (Tied Male Performer in a Leading Role), Olivia Cavallo (Female Performer in a Leading Role), Kate Turner and Gaynor Borlase (Choreography), Corey Hall and Natalie Calia (Musical Direction), and Melinda Slade (Direction). Junior Production of the Year went to Ringwood Secondary College’s Oliver!

Brad Fisher, Chair of the Open Section Judging Panel, provided the fascinating statistic that, between them, the Open Panellists travelled a staggering 46,350 kilometres to see the 58 productions in contention. Add to that the productions seen by the Junior Panellists and that’s a lot of mileage, and certainly puts their commitment into perspective. And so, onto the awards. Nathan Weyers took out the brick for Settings, and Adam Stafford for Male Performer in a Supporting Role for BLOC’s MISS SAIGON. Victoria Horne won Wardrobe for a second consecutive year, and Beryle Frees took out the Cameo Performance category for CLOC’s Mary Poppins. Melissa Harrington received the Gladys Moncreiff Award for First Performance in a Featured Role award for her portrayal of the eponymous character in Fab Nobs’ Carrie. Harrington and her onstage mother Natasha Bassett had showcased their powerhouse voices during a performance of ‘Why Not Me?’ just prior to the award being presented. The awards for Concert Performance went to Shepparton Theatre Arts Group’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, and Ensemble Performance to Camberwell Grammarian’s Theatre Company’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. (Whilst undeniably deserving of their accolades, my thumbs were going into overdrive tweeting their worthy – and wordy! – successes on behalf of this website during the night!).

The Choreography award went to Ashley Tynan-Mill for her work on CenterStage Geelong’s Evita. Babirra Music Theatre saw its leading lady and leading man in different shows take the top acting nods, Megan Coe for The King and I, and Jonathan Guthrie-Jones for The Boy From Oz. Guthrie-Jones’ mini-me, Caleb Waterworth, won against himself for Junior in an Open Production. Ben Hudson took out the Musical Direction award in a tie for The King and I and Cameron O’Reilly received the Dancer’s Award for The Boy From Oz, taking Babirra’s award tally for the evening to five. But the evening ultimately belonged to PLOS’s Legally Blonde with a total of eight awards: Technical Achievement, Sound (Marcello Lo Ricco), Design Award (Michael Fletcher), Lighting (Brad Alcock), Female Performer in a Supporting Role (Elise Stevens), Musical Direction (Martine Wengrow), Direction (Danny Ginsberg), and the biggie, Production of the Year. The PLOS family was out in force this evening and deserved an award of their own for being the most passionate and vocal cheer squad of the night.

Caption this...! Photo credit: James Terry

Caption this…!
Photo credit: James Terry

The general consensus in the foyer after the ceremony was that this had been one of the better ceremonies of recent years. The cast performances, too many to mention here, were of an exceptional standard, but special shout-outs to: Gabrielle O’Brien’s heart-wrenching ‘Don’t Cry Out Loud’ (Babirra’s The Boy From Oz); Nathan Wright’s glorious Production Tenor, Jaclyn DeVincentis’ sassy Fanny Brice, and Tyler Hess’ magnificent costumes in ‘His Love Makes Me’ (MDMS’s Gypsy); and the beautifully poignant ‘I Love You Song’ (Camberwell Grammarians’ Spelling Bee). All in all, the ceremony’s proceedings ran smoothly, swiftly and with nary a glitch. The fact that the audience was back at the understaffed bar before 11pm is testament to the slick work of Director Brad Beales, Stage Manager Sam Hornstein, Production Manager Brett Wingfield and all who worked tirelessly behind the scenes.

Theatre people, again, hosted the after-party at CenterStage Geelong’s amazing facility, Factory 26. Although this intrepid reporter did not attend, the subsequent photographs and public apologies posted on social media would suggest a wonderfully debaucherous night was had by all.  And so until next year…