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Dora Mavor Moore Awards give multiple nods to a train, a toad, a brothel and Blasted

A scene from the London production of "The Railway Children"

It's family fare versus adult themes at this year's Dora Mavor Moore Awards. Among the shows with the most nominations for Toronto's professional theatre awards, announced Tuesday, are a pair of beloved children's classics - The Railway Children and A Year With Frog and Toad - as well as Anusree Roy's tale of Calcutta prostitutes, Brothel #9 at Factory Theatre and Buddies in Bad Times's staging of the late Sarah Kane's bloody and horrific Blasted.

The Roy and Kane plays each garnered seven nominations, including for outstanding production, going into the 32nd annual Dora ceremony on June 27. The Railway Children, an ambitious show boasting a real steam-era train, is also in the running for top production, along with four other trophies. Frog and Toad, produced by the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, has eight nominations - including one for best musical production.

But the company with the most nominations for various productions is once again Soulpepper Theatre. This season it's up for 10 awards spanning six shows. They include three for the troupe's (Re)Birth: E.E. Cummings in Song. That show puts the classics-oriented Soulpepper is the rare position of vying for the prize for outstanding new musical/opera.

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"It's pretty funny to be competing with the Canadian Opera Company," said Soulpepper executive director Leslie Lester following the announcement. The show was created by members of the theatre's academy and Lester said its nominations should alert audiences that Soulpepper isn't just reviving classics any more. "We're pushing some boundaries as far as people's perceptions of what we do."

Similar to Soulpepper in the general-theatre division, the COC dominates the Doras' opera section, with six of its shows earning a total of eight nominations. Its only competition for outstanding production is the Luminato Festival's presentation of Rufus Wainwright's debut opera, Prima Donna.

Among commercial producers, David Mirvish is the front runner with eight nominations - three for Billy Elliot and five for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Those behemoths are competing with A Year With Frog and Toad and two other smaller shows - Parade by Acting Up Stage Company and Studio 180 and Angelwalk Theatre's [title of show]/i> - for best musical production.

Toronto's biggest public theatre, Canadian Stage, picked up three nominations, for the imported touring productions The Andersen Project and Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge, as well as for Andrew Kushnir's new play, The Middle Place - which premiered in collaboration with Theatre Passe Muraille.

Matthew Jocelyn, Canadian Stage's new artistic director, chose to see it as an endorsement of his company's new, off-the-mainstream direction, which so far has been more popular with critics than audiences. "For me, it's very heartening that … our artistic policy [is]being recognized at the Doras," he said.

In the awards' independent-theatre division, Cahoots Theatre Company racked up the most nominations - nine - for two productions. Its premiere of David Yee's episodic Paper Series took seven of those nods, although Yee himself was shut out of the outstanding-new-play category. And the National Ballet of Canada rules the dance division with four nominations for its production of British choreographer Wayne McGregor's Chroma.

The Dora nominations and awards are chosen by peer juries and administered by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts. TAPA also announced three other awards Tuesday. The Barbara Hamilton Memorial Award for excellence in the performing arts goes to actor-director David Ferry - who also happens to be in the best-actor race for his role in Blasted. The George Luscombe Award for mentorship was given to playwright-director Yvette Nolan. Ghislain Caron, long-time managing director of Théâtre Français de Toronto, received the Leonard McHardy and John Harvey Award for arts administrators.

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The 32nd Annual Dora Mavor Moore Awards take place at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto on June 27.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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