Serenbe’s ‘Miss Saigon’ soars with 6 Suzi awards

Serenbe Playhouse's outdoor version of the sprawling Vietnam War-era musical "Miss Saigon," highly touted for its use of an actual helicopter in the show, prevailed at the 12th annual Suzi Bass Awards on Monday. The ceremony, honoring outstanding achievements during the 2015-16 Atlanta theater season, was held at the Porter Sanford Performing Arts Center in Decatur.

In addition to winning the top prize for best musical, artistic director Brian Clowdus’ production won in five other categories. As a Vietnamese barmaid and an American G.I. involved in an ill-fated romance, co-stars Niki Badua and Chase Peacock were named best leading actress and best featured actor in a musical for their performances, and Clowdus was bestowed the award for best director of a musical.

The show also earned trophies for Chris Brent Davis’ music direction and Adam Howarth’s sound design.

Among other winners in the musical categories, the Aurora Theatre/Theatrical Outfit co-production of the Latin-flavored "In the Heights" garnered three awards — for Ricardo Aponte's choreography, Shannon Roberts' scenic design and Maria Cristina Fuste's lighting. And Horizon Theatre's campy "The Toxic Avenger" received two — for Leslie Bellair (in dual roles) as best featured actress and for (twin sisters) Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay's costumes.

Kevin Harry, who played the sinister title character in Actor's Express' "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," was tapped as best leading actor.

Despite numerous nominations between them, the Alliance Theatre’s “Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story,” Serenbe’s “Carousel,” Aurora’s “Into the Woods” and the Outfit’s “The Light in the Piazza” came up empty-handed.

Horizon's chic political/family comedy "The City of Conversation" took top honors for best production of a play.

But the big winner among nonmusicals was Aurora's buddy comedy "I'm Not Rappaport," with three awards — best director for David de Vries, best scenic design by the Curley-Clays, and best leading actor for former Atlantan Kenny Raskin (now based in Massachusetts), reprising a role he first played here some 25 years ago (at the old Theatrical Outfit).

Mary Lynn Owen nabbed best leading actress as an English professor battling cancer in Aurora's "Wit." Eric Mendenhall and Rachel Frawley were cited for their featured roles in the dramas "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (at the Alliance) and "The Crucible" (at the Shakespeare Tavern), respectively.

Stage Door Players' "Let Nothing You Dismay," a Christmas comedy by local playwright Topher Payne, won for best world premiere and best ensemble cast.

Winning one Suzi apiece were the Alliance's "Ethel" (sound design by Elisheba Ittoop) and " A Steady Rain" (lighting by Michael Gend), and 7 Stages' "The Revolutionists" (costumes by DeeDee Chmielewski).

The Alliance also scored in all five Theatre for Young Audiences categories — best production, director (Rosemary Newcott) and acting ensemble for “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” best design team for “Pancakes, Pancakes,” and best original production for “A Bucket of Blessings.”

Among plays that were shut out, despite their multiple nominations: the Express’ “Blackberry Winter,” the Alliance’s “Disgraced,” Aurora’s “I and You,” Serenbe’s “Of Mice and Men,” and True Colors’ “Smart People” and “Fetch Clay, Make Man.”

The Gene Gabriel Moore Award, dedicated to new work by Atlanta-based playwrights, went to Lane Karlock and Brian Kurlander for the Outfit's "Moxie." For the second year in a row, the Outfit also won the Audience Choice Award, voted on by the general public. A special Callboard Award went to Cindy Kearns, resident stage manager at the Shakespeare Tavern.

And in the evening’s most touching moment, Alliance artistic director Susan Booth presented a Lifetime Achievement tribute to the late Pete Shinn, the company’s resident lighting designer.