The jurors for the Dora Mavor Moore Awards and hip-hop star Drake agree: Soulpepper was the best place to see a play in Toronto during the 2019-20 performing arts season, which was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
The theatre company now run by artistic director Weyni Mengesha (but which was programmed up until the end of the calendar year by Alan Dilworth) led the general-theatre division in nominations announced on Monday morning for the city’s coming theatre, dance and opera awards.
Soulpepper’s production of The Brothers Size, American playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Yoruba mythology-inspired drama about two Black brothers living in the Louisiana bayou, which attracted the rapper and former Degrassi actor Aubrey Drake Graham to its opening night, received eight of the company’s 24 nods in total.
It’s up for outstanding production – and director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, recently appointed artistic director at Obsidian Theatre, is up for outstanding direction.
Actors Daren A. Herbert and Mazin Elsadig, who played titular brothers Ogun and Oshoosi Size, are both up for outstanding performance in a featured role – and the production also received nominations for its costume design, sound design, lighting design and scenic design.
Soulpepper’s other nominations are for Mengesha’s own productions of A Streetcar Named Desire (six, including outstanding production and outstanding lead performance for Amy Rutherford) and Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train (two, including lead acting nods for Daren A. Herbert and Xavier Lopez), Almighty Voice and His Wife (five, including featured performance nods for James Dallas Smith and Michaela Washburn), August: Osage County (two, lead performance nominations for Maev Beaty and Nancy Palk) and Betrayal (one).
Up against The Brothers Size and A Streetcar Named Desire for outstanding production are: The Groundling Theatre Company and Crow’s Theatre’s co-production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; Tarragon Theatre’s world premiere of Buffoon, playwright Anosh Irani’s one-man show starring Anand Rajaram; and Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes’ immersive puppet experience Forget Me Not, which was seen at the 2019 Luminato Festival.
Buffoon and Forget Me Not will compete with three other plays for the title of outstanding new play: Yaga by Kat Sandler; The Negroes are Congregating by Natasha Adiyana Morris; and The Book of Life by Odile Gakire Katese.
In the musical theatre division of the Dora Awards, Caroline, or Change – a Musical Stage Company and Obsidian Theatre co-production of Jeanine Tesori/Tony Kushner’s civil rights-era musical that played at the Winter Garden – led the way with eight nominations.
A newcomer to the musical-theatre scene, Eclipse Theatre Company, which is led by Broadway star Chilina Kennedy and director Evan Tsitsias, was the most lauded company of all in this division, however. Its co-production (with Crow’s Theatre) of Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet received six nods and its short run of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George got another five.
The five outstanding production of a musical nominees for the 2019-20 season: Ghost Quartet, Piaf/Dietrich, Caroline, or Change, The Adventures of Pinocchio – and Life in a Box from Bad Hats (Soulpepper’s first “associate company”).
In the independent theatre division (for shows presented in smaller theatres or with smaller budget), the Coal Mine theatre – a storefront company on the Danforth – received a division-leading 11 nominations over all, including six for Stewart Arnott’s intimate production of the dystopian drama Marjorie Prime. It’s up for outstanding indie production – and Stratford Festival legend Martha Henry and her co-star Sarah Dodd are both up for outstanding performance.
Other outstanding indie production nominees: Between Riverside and Crazy, another Coal Mine show; This is How We Got Here, Keith Barker’s moving new play about grief seen at Native Earth Performance Arts; The Stranger 2.0, an immersive adventure from DopoLavoro Teatrale; and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the farewell show for physical-theatre company Theatre Rusticle.
In addition to theatre for a general audience, the Dora Mavor Moore Awards also recognize excellence in dance, opera and theatre for young audiences (TYA) in Toronto.
The National Ballet of Canada led the dance division – with its triple-bill Angels’ Atlas with Chroma and Marguerite and Armand receiving the most nominations of any dance show, including a nod for outstanding original choreography for Canada’s international dance superstar Crystal Pite. Tapestry Opera led the opera division – with Shanawdithit, a new work by librettist Yvette Nolan and composer Dean Burry, receiving eight nominations in total.
And Young People’s Theatre, unsurprisingly, led the TYA division over all – with its presentation of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre’s The Mush Hole tying with Théâtre français de Toronto’s production of Les Zinspiré.e.s : Infiniment Éveillé.e.s for a leading six nominations within the division.
A full list of all 243 Dora nominations announced on Monday can be seen here. The 2020 Dora Award winners will be announced in a “virtual edition” of the annual ceremony, broadcast at 7:30 p.m. ET on June 29 on YouTube.
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