Black Theater honors its own — No Braata

Braata founder Andrew Clarke.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Black theater’s biggest night celebrated a few dramatic and musical productions voted by the Viv-AUDELCO committee but once again failed to distinguish the stellar stage presentation of Caribbean thespians.

Eight was not enough for the best director, best supporting actor, lead actors, lighting, set, sound and costume designers nominated for their respective roles in the revival of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prizewinning drama, “The Piano Lesson.”

Named a whopping nine times during the 41st annual Viv Awards, the company also scored a winner in the Best Revival category.

Needless to say, the cast garnered an impressive haul totaling one less than anyone could imagine. Winning in all the above categories – except sound – a cheering section packed with thespians and technicians from the Signature Theater Company found winners crisscrossing each other in the aisle at Symphony Space to collect their Lucite trophies.

The only Caribbean named Braata Theatre Workshop received two recognition nominations for Dramatic Production of the Year and Outstanding Ensemble Performance but did not win in any of the two categories.

According to founder Andrew Clarke, “The name(Braata) is a Jamaican colloquial term meaning ‘extra’ or ‘more’ and this is what this company aspires to do by giving its supporters, and audiences something more at all times.”

Four years after making its debut May 2009, Clarke, a singer and actor said he is optimistic that the group is progressing with its mission “to address the needs of theatre patrons in the Unites States by showcasing and promoting authentic Caribbean talent and culture.”

Flanked by cast members who attended the gala affair, Clarke said:

“We are more than privileged to be nominated.”

Recently regaled by Caribbean Life Newspaper publishers as one of only 20 acknowledged individuals saluted for accomplishing distinguished services at a young age – 20 under 40 — Clarke said, “we aim to foster and develop a greater interest in the understanding and appreciation for the Caribbean region and the Diaspora by showcasing its lifestyles, traditions and customs through the visual and performing arts Braata also seeks to reach out to the wider non-Caribbean community, and act as a vehicle for artistic integration by promoting fellowship and increased cooperation amongst all who are engaged in the advancement of the arts as a tool for entertainment, education and social change.“

Trinidad & Tobago’s Michael Rogers also earned a nomination in the lead actor category. Distinguished for his stellar portrayal of Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, the drama failed to garner a win for “Breakfast With Mugabe.”

Unfortunately, director Ruben Santiago-Hudson — and now eighth wonder was unable to witness the triumph of his direction and vision for each cast member who scored a sweep during the annual tribute to Black theater. His stellar direction of Wright’s play that won accolades –Tony Nominations, New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1990 — heralds a struggling Black family from the 1930s faced with making decisions about their legacy.

Co-hosted by actress/singer Melba Moore, dancer/choreographer George Faison and film and television actor Kevin Phillips, the Viv AUDELCO Awards named for founder Vivian Robinson doled out recognition honors for excellence in Black theater and is regarded as “the pre-eminent recognition for African-America theater artists.”

The awards paid tribute to 2013 achievers and also honored actors/actress who died throughout the year.

Lorna Littleway won the Pioneer Award.

Two future super-stars named Andre “Chez” Lewis and Sade Simone Solomon Lowery carried away the Rising Star Award. Lowery was dressed to the max in a black, fringed ensemble designed and made by her grandmother. She took time out to thank her mother and made mention of the bold creator of her jazzy outfit. Her stage presence recalled a previous year when an upwardly aimed Kerry Washington won the same honor at an early age.

In addition to naming categories and winners, Moore treated the audience to an impressive note-holding performance of “I Believe” which easily placed her among the Viv winners. Equally enchanting were the moments of levity injected by co-host Faison. Jesting with the band, he added lively commentary, comedic gestures, and even treated the crowd to an impromptu dance strut after announcing Mercedes Ellington as winner in the choreography category.

Distinguished patrons to the event included Aduke Aremu, Roscoe Orman, Ralph Carter and Jerome Preston Bates.

Special Achievement Awards were presented to Bishop Nathaniel Townsley and Lenori Fulani. Gospel siren Cissy Houston closed out the festivities singing “It Is Well With My Soul.” For her rendition she received a standing ovation.

And the winners are:

Lighting Design – Rui Rita, The Piano Lesson

Set design – Michael Carnahan, The Piano Lesson

Costume Design – Karen Perry, The Piano Lesson

Sound design – David D. Wright, The Importance of Being Earnest

Director/Dramatic Production – Ruben Santiago-Hudson, The Piano Lesson

Director/Musical Production – Keith Lee Grant, Dreamgirls

Choreographer – Mercedes Ellington, Storyville

Playwright – Colman Domingo, Wild With Happy

Supporting Actor – Chuck Cooper, The Piano Lesson

Supporting Actress – Sharon Washington, Wild With Happy

Outstanding Performance in a Musical (Male) – Michael Leonard James, Storyville

Outstanding Performance in a Musical (Female) – Dion Millington, Dreamgirls

Outstanding Musical Director – Andrew Arango, Dreamgirls

Musical Production of the Year – Dreamgirls (Gallery Players)

Outstanding Ensemble Performance – Choir Boy, Chuck Cooper (Manhattan Theatre Club)

Solo Performance – Jeannette Bayardelle (Shida)

Lead Actor – Brandon J. Dirden, The Piano Lesson

Lead Actress – Roslyn Ruff, The Piano Lesson

Best Revival — The Piano Lesson (Signature Theatre Company)

Dramatic Production of the Year – Wild With Happy (The Public Theater)

Forces of Nature Dance Theatre Company and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater tied to win the dance category.

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