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R&B singer Jully Black (in photo) and Stratford Festival regular Vanessa Sears won best performance and best supporting performance in a musical, respectively, playing mother and daughter in the civil rights-era Caroline, or Change.

Dahlia Katz/Dahlia Katz

The Toronto 2019-2020 theatre season may have come to an abrupt end in March – but the Toronto Theatre Critics Awards, which celebrate the best work on stage in Canada’s biggest city, were announced on schedule on Wednesday morning.

Obsidian Theatre, a black-focused theatre that has a long and impressive track record of artistic excellence, was the most lauded company this season, its productions picking up five awards in total – two of which were specifically for its departing artistic director Philip Akin.

In a first in the 10-year history of the TTCAs, Akin tied with himself in the voting for best director – and so will receive one award for his work on Actually (Anna Ziegler’s campus drama about consent co-produced with the Harold Green Jewish Theatre) and another for his work on Pass Over (Antoinette Nwandu’s poetric riff on Waiting for Godot tackling police brutality and systemic racism).

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The three-person ensemble of Pass Over (Kaleb Alexander, Mazin Elsadig and Alex McCooeye) received an award as well, while the R&B singer Jully Black and Stratford Festival regular Vanessa Sears won best performance and best supporting performance in a musical, respectively, playing mother and daughter in the civil rights-era Caroline, or Change (co-produced with Musical Stage Company at the Winter Garden this winter).

Chilina Kennedy, the Canadian Broadway star, was awarded best performance in a musical along with Black for her slow-burning turn in the Israel-set musical The Band’s Visit, which was presented on tour by David Mirvish. (Since discontinuing gender-based awards last year, the TTCAs now declare anywhere from one to three winners in the acting categories.)

Though it was only visiting Toronto, The Band’s Visit made a major impact on the TTCA jurors – and was named best production of a musical.

In addition to acting, Kennedy co-runs Eclipse Theatre Company, a new Toronto producer of musical theatre. Its co-production with Crow’s Theatre of composer Dave Malloy’s mysterious Ghost Quartet received two awards – best ensemble performance in a musical (for Beau Dixon, Hailey Gillis, Kira Guloien and Andrew Penner) and best direction of a musical (for Marie Farsi).

Thanks to another tie, the Irish theatre artist Conor McPherson also won best direction of a musical for his work on the outside-the-jukebox Bob Dylan musical Girl From the North Country, which he co-wrote and Mirvish Productions presented in Toronto.

Outside the March and Crow’s Theatre’s worth-the-wait (and worth-the-length) production of American playwright Annie Baker’s three-hour-plus Pulitzer Prize-winning homage to cinema and those who work in them, The Flick, was named best production of a play. Its cast was given an ensemble award – and Baker’s script was named the best international play to premiere in Toronto this season. (This is Baker’s second TTCA in that category; she won in 2017 for John.)

Best leading performance in a play went to Daren A. Herbert, playing a death-row prisoner in Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train; and Amy Rutherford, for her performance as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. Both plays were produced at Soulpepper; neither has much to do with transit, despite their titles.

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Best supporting performance in a play went to Sarah Dodd for her work on Coal Mine Theatre’s production of the American sci-fi dementia drama, Marjorie Prime.

Last but not least, The Jungle, co-written by Anthony MacMahon and Thomas McKechnie, was named best new Canadian play. Staged at the Tarragon Theatre, it is a potent Marxist polemic and realistic romance about a working-class Toronto couple struggling to get by in the precarious gig economy.

Like the award-winning Pass Over, it is a play that seems to be only more relevant now than it did when it was presented in the fall.

Toronto’s most prominent theatre critics – including The Globe and Mail’s Martin Morrow, Toronto Star’s Karen Fricker and Carly Maga and Now magazine’s Glenn Sumi – gathered on Zoom a few weeks ago to vote on the awards. (While I tuned in, I was not an official juror this year as I was on parental leave for what has now turned out to be the bulk of the season.)

The TTCAs will be broadcast for the first time on June 22 at 7 p.m. ET – on the YouTube page of the AFC (formerly the Actors’ Fund of Canada) in a ceremony that will double as a fundraiser for the charity.

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