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T he Lord of the Rings, an epic multinational commercial enterprise that was met with mixed to scathing reviews, and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, an independent, six-performances-only production with glowing notices, emerged as the front-runners at yesterday's announcement of the Dora Mavor Moore Awards nominations in Toronto.

Netting a staggering 15 nominations, The Lord of the Rings dominated the General Theatre division in the category that its producers initially insisted it's anything but: the musical. It picked up nods for outstanding new musical for Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus; choreography for Peter Darling; direction for Warchus; and outstanding production to Kevin Wallace and Saul Zaentz in association with David & Ed Mirvish and Michael Cohl. The show was also the big winner in the acting categories with Peter Howe, Michael Therriault and Brent Carver competing for the outstanding performance by a male in a principal role in a musical. Carly Street and Rebecca Jackson Mendoza will duke it out in the outstanding performance by a female in a principal role. Evan Buliung was also recognized for his work in The Lord of the Rings as outstanding performance in a featured role.

"I understand that's a heck of a lot of nominations to receive," said a delighted Wallace yesterday on the phone from London. "It's great for the production. ... I would just say that from our perspective, because it's the industry itself recognizing its fellows, for so many people in the production to have got a nod is just lovely."

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Of the 15 nominations, Wallace is particularly thrilled with the six picked up by his cast in the acting categories. The production was criticized for emphasizing mechanics and scale above storytelling and acting. "It's a lesson that we have learnt over the previews, and since the show opened, in terms of the importance of the human scale." The actors, adds Wallace, have learnt to pitch their performances in relation to the "magnificence and beauty" of the set design. "The [acting]nominations are well deserved."

BirdLand Theatre's production of American playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Last Days of Judas Iscariot garnered nine nominations, including outstanding production; direction for David Ferry; performance by a male for both Philip Akin and Diego Matamoros, and by a female for Irene Poole. It also collected nominations for costume, lighting, set and sound design.

Soulpepper Theatre Company garnered 10 nominations in recognition of four of its productions. The Long Valley, an adaptation by the collective This Is a Bird of short stories by John Steinbeck, received four nominations for outstanding new play as well as three others for performance in a featured role to its ensemble and lighting and sound design for Jan Komarek. Our Town, Soulpepper's inaugural production at its new Young Centre for the Performing Arts, also picked up four nominations for outstanding production; direction (for Joseph Ziegler) and performance by a male in a principal role (Albert Schultz and Jeff Lillico). Whether he gets the award or not, Schultz is already a winner: He's the 2006 recipient of the Barbara Hamilton Memorial Award presented annually since 1996 for an individual who has demonstrated "excellence and professionalism in the performing arts."

It was also a good year for black artists in the General Division - although the fact that Obsidian Theatre's dismal and largely ignored (by critics and the public) revival of Colleen Wagner's tattered The Monument picked up six nods suggested that compensation rather than recognition was on the selection committee's minds. Black poet and performer d'bi young's blood.claat - one womban story picked up five nominations, including outstanding new play, production, performance and direction, the latter for Weyni Mengsha.

Also nominated in the outstanding new play, General Division, are Rosa Laborde's Léo (Tarragon Theatre); Ronnie Burkett's 10 Days on Earth (CanStage); and Niki Landau's Territories (Theatre Passe Muraille).

In the Independent Theatre division, Anosh Irani's Bombay Black did well, collecting six nominations, including outstanding new play and production. Return: The Sarajevo Project from Theatrefront nabbed five, including outstanding new play for Sue Baliant & Ensemble, as well as direction for Daryl Cloran and performance for Holly Lewis. Alex Poch-Goldin's Cringeworthy also got five nods, including outstanding new play; direction (Chris Abraham); performance by a male (Paul Fauteux) and by a female (Tara Nicodemo).

Other nominated plays in the Independent Theatre stream include Mark Brownell's Medici Slot Machine and Judith Thompson's Enoch Arden by Alfred, Lord Jabber and his Catatonic Songstress.

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The 27th Annual Dora Mavor Moore Awards ceremony, which recognizes the best in Toronto stage performance, will be held at the Winter Garden Theatre on June 26.

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