This year on the city slicker’s home turf, the ceremony included many triumphs, upsets, and of course, more than a little controversy.

The weather was glorious as my bestie’s trusty Camry drove up the hill of Kalinda Road, Ringwood, behind a Ballarat Bus. Little did I know that it would be a sign of things to come in a very action packed night indeed! As we parked and walked the long trek up the theatre, we saw many people milling outside. The Foyer of the George Wood Performing Arts Centre of the Yarra Valley Grammar School is a rather curious U shape, and so wasn’t really conducive to people mingling within it. Also there were no facilities for any drinks to be sold and the complimentary supper provided by the Guild is always POST show. What does this mean for all you playing at home? 1) No water……. it was a hot night so people got rather parched.

And 2) the most serious point I’d like to make in this paragraph…. We were expected to sit in a hot theatre, for three hours, with no break, with NO ALCOHOL to ease the burden. Really? Really…. It’s not that we don’t love the awards and desperately want to know who wins, but the Ceremony is so long that it borders on tedious. This year’s ceremony I felt was no exception. Three hours is a really long time to sit in a stuffy theatre. You only had to see the people milling outside during the ceremony to know that it wasn’t capturing everybody’s attention. I’ve heard rumours of people leaving the venue to go and buy water and returning. A venue with insufficient parking, foyer space and refreshments did not add to the experience.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my trusty assistant and ex TP colleague (me the ex that is) Tim McDonald for helping me write down all of the winners of the Judge’s Awards for Excellence. The format of intermittent award presentations used made it very difficult to catch who was winning for what show and why. As the performers are not named in the program I must apologise to the ones I do not know.

As we trooped into the Theatre which had lovely ample stage space, the show began with the cast of CLOC’s Dusty performing Dancing in the Street. It was practically a new number, as it had different cast members, choreography and costumes than in the season’s performance; but it was a great way to open proceedings. Led by nominees for Leading and Supporting Actresses, Jodie Symes and Rachel Whitelaw, their performance had great energy and neat choreography. Special mentions to Samuel Kitchen for excellent shimmy work and David Sly for giving it a good go!

The new President of the Guild Beverley Meldrum made a very appropriate, eloquent and well received speech. She thanked all involved and spoke about how the Guild had seen much change over the past 10 years in our Community. She also mentioned that she meant to introduce more change to the way the Guild functions. I look forward to seeing what eventuates.

She then presented the Musician’s Award to the very deserving Danny Forward, who is a well respected MD and Musician for his talent and his attitude. Danny had to leave he seat at the Grand Piano in the Orchestra to accept, which was very fitting. The Edith Harrhy Award was awarded to the Wonthaggi stalwart Gwen Derrick, who apart from being absolutely adorable, has been instrumental in the continued existence of theatre in the area. Beverley also paid homage to Sue Dyer, a Matriarch of PLOS and an avid supporter of Theatre, who passed away this year.

JYM’s Witches of Eastwick was next up to perform with Make Him Mine, a wonderful trio of young ladies delivered a great sound, however the unimaginative blocking left me wondering exactly why it was chosen out of the 92 productions judged this year. This was followed by Five Forever from Nova’s Little Women. Led by double nominee Jacqui Levitas, the quintet gave a fun and frivolous performance with solid harmonies and well executed albeit simple choreography.

Graham Cope as the Chairman of the Judges Panel then gave a speech and then awarded the first award for excellence. His speech included his first barb at the Theatrical Community for the evening, with criticism to sound across the board. He went on to make further unnecessary comments about the production of Concerts, and make inappropriate comments about the “student body” of New Beat’s Bare Ensemble. These comments were reminiscent of last year’s ceremony, where David Dare (then President) criticized the standard of Choreography, and either David or Graham ( I apologise for not being able to remember specifically who, but it was a man with glasses…) even criticized the standard of Junior Productions! Apart from insulted audience members and hecklers, what exactly do these comments achieve? I’m not exactly sure what exactly was yelled out from the audience at one stage when Graham was talking, but it definitely ended with the word “off”, it wasn’t hard to guess at the sentiment behind it. In a Ceremony that is already pushing three hours, unnecessarily scathing comments didn’t go down well with the audience.

It’s true that the quality of productions is improving, but at the end of the day this is amateur. Perhaps anyone wanting to make disparaging comments would do well to remember this.

I’ll do my best to sum up the Judges Awards for Excellence in the order that they were given and apologise for anything I’ve missed but the format really didn’t make it easy to get it all down! Jack Earle for First Keyboard in St Michael’s 13, A Gentlemen who wrote the Musical Barchester for Ballarat National Theatre, PLC and Scotch College’s Sound of Music for…. something to do with Nuns?! Geelong’s Spamalot’s trumpeter Daniel Heskitt, A production of Jesus Christ Superstar’s Audio Visual Design, The Choreography for Ballarat Grammar School’s production of Barnum, Julian Campobasso and Luis Rivera for filling in for the Leading Player in Waterdale’s production of Pippin, and finally Graham Bendy (?) for his Musical Arrangements in the concert A Hot August Night in Ballarat. Even between Tim and I that was the best we could do and only the companies are listed on the website, not the recipients.

The first of the official awards, Junior Female in a supporting role went to Ellie Carroll for JoJo in Seussical with BLOC.

Next up we were treated to Footlight Productions as they gave us America from the old favourite West Side Story. The costumes were beautiful and the girls gave great gusto in the performance. The first of the Junior performances came next and revealed to the audience an astounding triple threat young performer with Terminal Illness from St Michael’s 13. The two performers had fabulous comic timing and this number was a real crowd pleaser.

The Open Supporting Role award for the ladies went to Sallie Burke-Muller as Lina Lamont in Singing in the Rain with BLOC, the first of the Singing in the Rain domination. Sallie “didn’t come all this way not to say something” and so made a pleasant however possibly unexpected speech. The Lad to take it out was David McLean for Alfred Doolittle in OsMaD’s My Fair Lady.

BLOC’s Singin’ in the Rain was next cab of the rank with Good Morning. Although I enjoyed the crisp execution of the choreography and the iconic couch walking finale, I can’t say I saw why the show won so many awards from the presentation. Accents were inconsistent and vocals were good but not dazzling. Next up was one of the highlights of the show for me, Zak Brown from CLOC’s Man of La Mancha singing the classic The Impossible Dream. I always enjoy Zak’s booming and deep resonant vocals, but it was his conviction in what he was singing that reached me in the Balcony and really impressed me.

Junior Male Supporting was the first tie of the night: Joshua Kerr for Gaston in Loyola’s Beauty and the Beast and Martin Quinn for Molokov for Adamson’s Chess (what a tough show for a school to tackle, it shows these kids have got the goods!) Settings went to Nathan Weyers for BLOC’s Singin’ in the Rain, which was accepted by the Director and who also made an impromptu speech, without amplification, great projection sir! I heard you from the Balcony. The Design Award went to Ljerka Kelly for the Von Trapp living room set for Beaumaris’ Sound of Music. I do recall seeing the pictures on TP and thinking how beautiful it was. The category was dominated by Audio Visual designs this year, something we’ll see more of in the future I’m sure.

The Special Guest was next, David Rogers Smith who started out his performing career with Companies like Catchment many moons ago! He has since featured in Professional Productions of Phantom, Les Mis, Funny Girl and Chicago to name a few. He gave a touching rendition of Bring Him Home – forte is definitely his forte!

OSMaD came next with a range of selections from My Fair Lady. First came Ascot Gavotte, which looked amazing with costumes by Phillip Rhodes, sounded great with wonderful diction and clarity, and utilised simple and effective choreography. However with two more different songs to come, the whole song was probably unnecessary as it was quite repetitive. Next came a charming performance of On the Street Where you Live, and suddenly the explosive Laura Slavin commanded the stage with her version of Show Me. How she managed to sing like an Angel but ooze fire and anger is beyond me! A striking performance.

Wardrobe was taken out by Lynne Muller for Barchester with Ballarat National Theatre. Lighting was won by Brenton Van Vliet for MUMCo’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (what a shame he was out of the country and unable to accept!) The Dancer’s Award was given to Luke Rice in his role as Cosmo Brown in BLOC’s Singin’ in the Rain, who had already demonstrated his tapping skills to us.

PLOS’ Spamalot came next with the sensationally funny (intentionally and unintentionally with a comedy of errors to boot!) Michael Fletcher and company performing the favourite Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Costume malfunctions and all, this was a really fun presentation and showed us that Michael Fletcher was a worthy advocate of the Bruce he later took out.

Technical Acheivement went to Singin’ in the Rain from the BLOC Juggernaut. Cameo went to Michael Fletcher as one of the Guards in PLOS’ Spamalot, separate to his role as Patsy! The Gladys Moncrieff Award for First Performance in a Featured Role went to Dan Gale for Freddy Benson in MUMCo’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

The one Concert selection, All I Ask of You from Ballarat Lyric Theatre’s A Hot August Night in Ballarat gave us two lovely young voices. However the performance was marred by the remark that probably got the worst response from the audience: “this show was how a Concert should be put on”. Graham Cope wasn’t out to make friends with this one.

Junior Performer in an Open Production went to Sharon Wills for her role as Kim in Windmill’s Miss Saigon. The Ensemble Award went to the cast of BLOC’s 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee. The Concert Award with to Ballarat Lyric Theatre’s A Hot August Night in Ballarat.

The Junior Leading Role awards went to Todd Jacobsson for Daryl in Ballarat & Clarendon’s Witches of Eastwick and (Miss) Shannon Cordes for Judas with Ivanhoe’s Jesus Christ Superstar.

Next was by far the best performance section of the evening! It was a religious mega mix if you will, and the crowd loved it. First up were the fabulous Fab Nob’s Altar Boyz with the aptly named We Are the Altar Boyz. Talk about being show fit, the tight and complex choreography and great harmonies made me think that these boys should be giving lessons to the Back Street Boys! Second was the young Shannon Cordes from Ivanhoe’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar. This girl ripped up the rocky Heaven on their Minds with an incredible belt! She perhaps needed a Jesus around to bounce off, but I think Amelia should think about a career as a rock star! Next up was Catchment’s Nunsense with Holier than Thou. The audience were loving the audience participation, and the crazy awesome vocals by Natasha Basset! Although all 5 Nuns were full of energy.

And now we came to the pointy end of proceedings: the Open Leading Performer Awards. Luke Rice won his second Bruce for his role as Cosmo Brown in BLOC’s Singin’ in the Rain, and Jocelyn Mackay won for her portrayal of Maria Rainer in Geelong Lyric’s Sound of Music.

My highlight of the evening was Whitehorse’s performance of the title number of Rent. It was like an energy rock explosion. I especially loved how the ensemble moved the set pieces around. Kudos also to Leah Anderson who performed the role of Joanne with less than 24 hours notice! The whole performance was electrifying. Although I’m told on the original set the number was much more effective, just from seeing that number I’m surprised the show didn’t get more nominations!

The Artistic Team Awards were next. Choreography went to Allster Smith for Singin’ in the Rain. MD of a Junior Production went to Jayne Turner for PLC and Scotch’s Sound of Music. MD of an Open Production was another tie – Ian Govat for A Hot August Night in Ballarat with Ballarat Lyric Theatre and John Ferguson for OSMaD’s My Fair Lady.

The Director’s Awards were presented by Special Guest David Rogers-Smith who was a pleasant and charismatic presenter, with a short and funny speech preceding the presentations. Director of a Junior Production went to crowd favourite Karl McNamara for Glen Waverley’s Sweeney Todd, and Singin’ in the Rain once again won the battle of the Bruce with Peter Tulloch picking up the win.

The final performance of the night was Ballarat & Clarendon College’s cast of Witches of Eastwick with I Love a Little Town. As Daryl, Todd Jacobsson proved why he won best Junior Leading Performance. Darryl is a difficult role but Todd delivered his portrayal with ease. Overall, all Junior Soloists gave astoundingly technically advanced vocal deliveries. Watch out adults, the kids are coming to get us!

Bruce McBrien, yes, THE BRUCE, awarded the Production of the Year Awards. He may be getting a bit long in the tooth but always proves that he’s still full of beans! For the final tie of the night, Glen Waverley’s Sweeney Todd and St Michael’s 13 took out the Junior Production of the Year. And the least surprising winner of the night was BLOC’s Singin’ in the Rain taking out Production of the Year. For some reason there wasn’t a performance at the end, so the night went off with some nice music from the Orchestra, as opposed to a bang.

Overall I thought Sound and Lighting were very good and the Orchestra was FANTASTIC! But of course, what else would you expect from Bev Woodford. The actual Ceremony itself ran very smoothly apart from a few apparent technical difficulties, but from the look or things Directors Brad Fischer and Nathan Firmin did a great job. Tara Kabalan and Ashley Rousetty as Awards Assistants were fantastic and both looked stunning, which was duly noted by the founder and namesake of the Guild, Bruce McBrien.

A lot of city slickers made the comment that they were disappointed that more Melbourne shows didn’t win more awards. Yes we don’t get out to the regional productions, but my thought is that if a Production is judged as the best, then it follows it would win other awards because it was deemed to be the show with the best of everything. What I have a problem with is how long and drawn out the ceremony is. Again I will repeat, three hours, no break. How did everyone’s bladder’s hold out?!?! It was like seeing a Lord of the Rings movie when you’ve finished your Extra Large Coke in an hour…..

Was there any need for a Special Guest? I enjoyed his performance but it’s not like we were left wanting for talent. Is there ever a need for negative comment at what is supposed to be a celebration of the year’s achievements?

And with the abundance of Junior Talent, why shouldn’t they kiddies have their own ceremony? It’s very odd that there is no award for Junior Choreography when the rest of the Artistic Team have the opportunity to be nominated. Some of the budgets for these show’s are bigger than Adult Companies, and the standard just as good. Give them their own ceremony and they can have more technical awards, more performances, and more chances for celebration.

The Supper was in a separate room with plenty of delicious food, but apparently not much Champagne on hand… And then a great deal of revelers headed to the Orange Whip Night Club for a hot, sweaty and FUN After Party. Now we have the evidence that you should never put drunk performers in front of the Video Camera… All in all, a great evening with many highlights and controversies. I look forward to what the Member Companies have to offer in 2011!

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