The Elliot Norton Awards turned 25 on Monday night — though that’s nothing compared with Norton himself, who lived to be 100. The dean of American theater critics spent 48 years of that century in an aisle seat. The Norton Awards, bestowed annually by the Boston Theater Critics Association, honor his memory as well as the best in Boston theater, which this year was quite a lot. The evening included the presentation of 25th Anniversary Awards to Mayor Thomas Menino, outgoing American Repertory Theatre (ART) artistic director Robert Woodruff, outgoing North Shore Music Theatre producing artistic director Jon Kimbell, and Jon B. Platt, who beautifully renovated Boston’s Colonial Theatre before going on to such moneybagging ventures as producing Wicked. The evening’s most prestigious honor, the Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence, was taken home by set and production designer par excellence Eugene Lee, for 40 years the resident designer at Trinity Repertory Company as well as a three-time Tony Award winner and the designer since its inception of Saturday Night Live.
Among the productions honored at the Norties’ silver jubilee were Doubt (outstanding visiting production), the Huntington Theatre Company’s Mauritius (outstanding production by a large company), the Lyric Stage Company’s Miss Witherspoon (outstanding production by a midsize company), Boston Theatre Works’ (BTW) A Midsummer Night’s Dream (outstanding production by a small company), and Zeitgeist Stage Company’s Stuff Happens (outstanding production by a fringe company). SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Caroline, or Change was named Outstanding Musical Production.
Individuals who got to deliver their thank-you speeches included directors Nicholas Martin (who spoke by proxy as he was actually working that night) for his Huntington Theatre Company’s staging of Love’s Labour’s Lost, David R. Gammons for helming Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s all-male Titus Andronicus, and Jon Lipsky for two shows: Boston Playwrights’ Theatre’s King of the Jews and Alliger Arts’ Coming Up for Air: An AutoJAZZography. Honored designers were Dewey Dellay, who supplied sound design for the Lyric’s Miss Witherspoon and 9 Parts of Desire as well as for SpeakEasy’s The Women, and set designer Christine Jones and lighting designer Justin Townsend for transforming ART’s Zero Arrow Theatre into a fabulous club for the troupe’s collaboration with the Dresden Dolls, The Onion Cellar.
And oh those actors love to glam it up and strut their stuff. Individuals taking the stage at this year’s Norties, thanking their colleagues and their mothers, but not (thank God) God, included solo performer Stan Strickland for Coming Up for Air: An AutoJAZZography, Leigh Barrett for her musical turns in New Repertory Theatre’s Ragtime and the Lyric’s Souvenir, Michael Aronov for the Huntington’s Mauritius, Joan MacIntosh for ART’s Britannicus, and Paula Plum for the Lyric’s Miss Witherspoon and BTW’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The peripatetic Larry Coen also won for the Lyric’s Miss Witherspoon, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s The Taming of the Shrew, Beau Jest Moving Theatre’s Samurai 7.0: Under Construction, and the Gold Dust Orphans’ Silent Night of the Lambs and The Plexiglass Menagerie. He was relieved to win, he said, because if he hadn’t he’d have lost five times.
A special citation was presented to the Harvard Theatre Collection, whose curator, Fredric Woodbridge Wilson, always archiving, took home a stack of programs.