Weathervane, Oakland get most nominations for theater awards

Marquee Awards officials welcome the inclusion of the Akron theater.

By Guy D’Astolfo

The Youngstown Playhouse’s virtual absence in the 2008-09 season left a big opening in the Marquee Awards nominations. Weathervane Playhouse and the Oakland Center for the Arts filled the gap, gobbling up 94 nominations between them.

The Youngstown Area Community Theatre Alliance (YACTA) revealed the nominees Thursday evening in a program at Cafe Cimmento, downtown.

The Playhouse is usually one of the heavy hitters at the annual program — now in its sixth year — that recognizes excellence in regional theater.

But it barely registered this past season. The reason, of course, is because it canceled its season after its second production.

Financial woes, building problems and lack of grants had finally caught up with the theater company — although its comeback begins in earnest tonight with the opening of “Barefoot in the Park.”

Weathervane garnered 51 nominations, with its production of “Children of Eden” accounting for 24 all by itself.

The Akron playhouse also was dominant at last year’s Marquees.

Which brings up the question: Why is an Akron theater company competing in the Marquee Awards? After all, the “YA” in YACTA stands for “Youngstown Area.”

J.E. Ballantyne Jr., past president of YACTA for the previous five years, was instrumental in including Weathervane in the Marquees.

He said that at the time Weathervane was brought into the awards loop (around 2003), it was because many actors from the Youngstown area were involved in productions there, and many theater patrons from the Mahoning Valley were going to shows there.

Weathervane did fairly well in terms of nominations the first three years but has broken out as the dominant force the past two seasons.

“There has been no discussion about cutting them out of the Marquees,” said Ballantyne. “We appreciate the high quality of their shows.”

Sam Luptak, acting president of YACTA, echoed those sentiments.

“There have been no negative comments I’ve heard about having them,” he said. “[The Marquees] might even want to start pulling in more theaters from the Akron-Canton area to make it more of a regional event.”

Luptak said the Akron-Canton area does not have as many community theaters as the Youngstown-Warren area.

“We have 12 theaters [including semiprofessional] here,” said Luptak. “Akron-Canton doesn’t have that, and they really are part of our community.”

Weathervane always brings a nice contingent to the awards ceremony, said Luptak, which this year will be Aug. 15 at the Saxon Club in Austintown,

Weathervane is easily the most active theater in the Marquees and has the largest paid staff: five full- timers and five part-timers.

John Hedges, executive director of Weathervane, said his theater presented 12 shows in the past season and still attracts talent and theatergoers from the Youngstown area.

The Youngstown Playhouse is the second-largest theater. In 2007-08, it had a paid staff of three full-timers and presented seven shows.

Hedges said the Akron-Canton area has no comparable theater-awards program.

He said his theater, which is about to enter its 75th season, enjoys competing in the Marquees and would consider becoming a member of YACTA.

YACTA comprises Youngstown Playhouse, Oakland Center for the Arts, Victorian Players, Top Hat Productions, New Castle Playhouse, Move Over Broadway, Potter Players (East Liverpool) and New Castle Playhouse.

But the Marquee Awards include several theaters that are not members, including Salem Community Theatre, Trumbull New Theatre, Carnation City Players (Alliance), Stage Left Players (Lisbon), Boardman Community Theatre, Main Street Theater and Weathervane.

The nominating process for this year’s Marquees has been the most well-researched in the event’s history, said Luptak.

A contingent of 40 trained evaluators used a points-based system to grade each performance. Each of the 60 plays and musicals was evaluated by the team, and at least five evaluators saw every play.

The Oakland Center for the Arts garnered 43 nominations — second-most — including 14 for “Reefer Madness,” 10 for “Driving Miss Daisy,” seven for “Doubt” and six for “Night of the Living Dead.”

Top Hat Productions came in third with 29 nominations, including 12 each for “Aida” and “The Earth Trembled.”

New Castle Playhouse landed 28 nods, including 19 for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

Stage Left Players got 16 nominations; Victorian Players, 11; Trumbull New Theatre, seven; Salem Community Theatre, six; Youngstown Playhouse, five; Carnation City Players, five; Boardman Community Theatre, three; and Main Street Theatre (Columbiana) and Move Over Broadway Productions (Canfield), one each.

For tickets to the Marquee Awards ceremony, go to or call (330) 774-4212.

Selected categories. For a complete list, go to

Best musical “Aida,” Top Hat “Children of Eden,” Weathervane “Reefer Madness,” Oakland “A Man of No Importance,” Carnation City “The Earth Trembled,” Top Hat

Best play “Doubt,” Oakland “Driving Miss Daisy,” Oakland “Rabbit Hole,” Oakland “The Glass Menagerie,” New Castle “The Miracle Worker,” Victorian Players

Best director — musical Herb Crum, “A Man of No Importance,” Carnation City Players Brian Palumbo, “Aida,” Top Hat Terri Kent, “Children of Eden,” Weathervane Rob Joki, “Reefer Madness,” Oakland Mark Frost and Cheryl Kekel, “Smoke on the Mountain,” Salem Community Theatre

Best director — play Nancy Cates, “Bloody Murder,” Weathervane Mike Hinge, “Doubt,” Oakland Terri Wilkes, “Driving Miss Daisy,” Oakland Chris Fidram, “Rabbit Hole,” Oakland J.E. Ballantyne Jr., “The Miracle Worker,” Victorian Players Chris Fidram, “Kitchen Witches,” Trumbull New Theatre

Best actor — musical Jeffrey Hall (Pseudolus), “A Funny Thing Happened,” New Castle Brian Palumbo (Radames), “Aida,” Top Hat James Dickason (Adam), “Children of Eden,” Weathervane Brian Palumbo (Joseph), “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Boardman Community Theatre Brian Palumbo (Jesus), “The Earth Trembled,” Top Hat

Best actress — musical Rachell Joy (Aida), “Aida,” Top Hat Ali Cleland (Annie), “Annie Get Your Gun,” Stage Left Players Amanda Davis (Eve), “Children of Eden,” Weathervane Cheryl Kekel (Vera), “Smoke on the Mountain,” Salem Community Theatre Julie Palumbo (woman), “The Earth Trembled,” Top Hat

Best actor — play John Cox (Max Prince), “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” New Castle Johnny Herbert (Hoke), “Driving Miss Daisy,” Oakland James McClellan (Father Flynn), “Doubt,” Oakland Joel Stigliano (Howie), “Rabbit Hole,” Oakland Terry Shears (Robert), “Proof,” Trumbull New Theatre

Best actress — play Emily Pote (Nora Helmer), “A Doll’s House,” Weathervane Linda Ryan (Lady Somerset), “A Doll’s House,” Weathervane Molly Galano (Miss Daisy), “Driving Miss Daisy,” Oakland Sara Klimenko (Becca), “Rabbit Hole,” Oakland Molly Galano (Amanda), “The Glass Menagerie,” New Castle

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