The bitter cold outside Sunday night gave way to warm greetings and well wishes from all over the theatrical spectrum at the 10th Annual Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards, held inside the Downtown Doubletree Hotel on January 17th. Omaha World Herald columnist Mike Kelly hosted the newly reformatted awards night honoring the city's musical, visual, and performing arts.
Speaking of the new format, this year's event attempted the more streamlined process of dividing the night into four sections. A series of montage videos for each season (fall, winter, etc.) of Omaha's artistic happenings included interviews from local artists commenting on the year that was in artistic expression. For theatre, we saw comments from nominees Laura Leininger and Steve Krambeck along with his wife Debbie. It was nice to see the year-in-review montage of events. You forget how much theatre was created in the span of 12 months in this city and taking a brief trip down memory lanes allowed for plenty of 'Oh yeah! I forgot about that!' moments. That's not to say the montages don't need improvement. Often times, voice overs were too soft to hear in the large reception hall and several theatres/productions had photos that were mismatched or just plain wrong. When I asked a couple of producers if they OEAA reached out to them for photos, say said no one contacted them. It's a small oversight in the grand scheme of things that hopefully will be corrected in the awards shows to come.
As for the awards themselves, Blue Barn Theatre came away as the big winner for the evening, taking home six honors including five for the Best Drama winner OUR TOWN. The final show in the Blue Barn's old performance spaced also took home Best Director-Play (Susan Clement-Toberer), Best Supporting Actress (Julie Huff), Outstanding Lighting Design (Carol Wisner), and Outstanding Sound Design (Martin Magnuson). Accepting the award on Blue Barn's behalf was Amy Reiner, who took home her own OEA Award for her Outstanding Prop Design on Blue Barn's AMERICAN BUFFALO.
Creighton University had a strong showing as well behind the strength of their Best Musical winner CABARET. The Broadway classic also earned honors for Best Director-Musical (Amy Lane), Best Supporting Actress (Judy Radcliff), and Best Music Direction (Stephen Sheftz). Creighton also reigned in an award for Best Dance Production for A NIGHTMARE'S HOLIDAY.
Omaha Community Playhouse garnered 3 awards for the evening including honors for Best Comedy (I HATE HAMLET), Best Actress (Melanie Walters), Best Supporting Actor (Mathias Jeske), and Outstanding Choreographer (Melanie Walters). The later three were for the Monty Python musical SPAMALOT.
SNAP Productions' HARBOR took home a host of acting awards including Best Actress (Kaitlyn McClincy), Best Supporting Actor (Noah Diaz), and Best Youth Performer (Ryleigh Welsh).
The University of Nebraska-Omaha Theatre Department took home a pair of honors for Outstanding Scenic Design (Steven L. Williams for HEDDA GABLER) and Outstanding Costume Design (Sharon Sobel for FREAKSHOW).
Other theatrical awards that evening included Best Premier of a New, Original, Local Script (Ellen Struve for PRINCE MAX'S TREWLY AWFUL TRIP TO THE DESOLAT INTERIOR), Best Actor-Play (Daniel Dorner in Brigit St. Brigit's AN ILLEAD), Best Actor-Musical (Dan Chevalier in The Candy Project's GUTTENBERG! THE MUSICAL!), and Outstanding Featured Dancer (Matthew Carter in Ballet Nebraska's GISELLE).
Also in the performing arts category, Zedeka Poindexter took home the award for Best Performance Poet while Rachel Ware took home Best Comedian. The long-running comedy troupe The Weisenheimers snagged the award for Best Comedy Ensemble.
Those folks following the awards on social media were quick to point out that women took home 14 of the 22 individual performing arts awards, including 10 out of 14 non-gendered honors. Attendees remarked that it was an encouraging development to see so many strong female representatives in the theatrical community.
During the awards show, members of comedy troupe The Backline treated audiences to a risqué bake sale number that was one of the evening’s funnier moments. Felica Webster and Michelle Troxclair also gave riveting poetry performances touching racial identity and struggle on the eve of Martin Luther King Day.
Overall, this year's iteration of the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards was an improvement on years past. For better or for worse, the OEAAs always try something new with one aspect never changing: the feeling of celebration for all of our city's creative pursuits.