By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer
And the Tony Award for Best Regional Theatre goes to ... Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
The American Theatre Wing singled out the Playhouse as the most exceptional theater in the nation when it announced its 58th annual Tony nominations Monday in New York.
"I was stunned," said Ed Stern, the Playhouse's producing artistic director. "It's great news, and it's big stuff."
It is the highest award given for regional theater and puts Cincinnati in the ranks with the country's most prestigious stages, such as Chicago's Goodman Theatre, Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater and Denver's Center Theatre Company - all former winners of the award.
American Theatre Critics Association members, 260 from coast to coast, consider six to 12 theaters every year, vote by secret ballot, then make their recommendation to the Tony committee.
The award recognizes consistent high quality, courage and a willingness to take risks, says Michael Barnes, arts and entertainment editor at the Austin American-Statesman and chairman of the association.
"It's important that the theater be involved in nurturing new works or new production styles, or being in the creative forefront," he said. "Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park deserves recognition for that."
He singled out new work the Playhouse has fostered, such as Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer, which premiered last year in Cincinnati and subsequently won a $5,000 citation for the 2004 American Theatre Critics/Steinberg New Play Award.
The Playhouse has presented at least one world premiere annually during the past 16 years. This year, it had three on its schedule: One; Going Gone; and Hiding Behind Comets.
"It's also important that the Playhouse has been quite courageous in a city with a reputation for a conservative cultural environment, to do shows that may have been controversial," Barnes said. "Our association is committed to the highest quality in theater and criticism, but also to issues of free expression."
Edward Stern stands on the stage at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park Monday.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
Such national recognition will make it easier for the Playhouse to hire the best designers, directors and actors, Stern said. He said he also hopes the award attracts national funding.
Cincinnati Playhouse was founded in 1960. It has an annual budget of $9 million and 19,000 subscribers, one of the largest subscriber bases in the country. Each season, about 200,000 people visit its Robert S. Marx and Thompson Shelterhouse theaters in Eden Park.
"In the year that we had the opening of the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, when clearly the Cincinnati Symphony has reached new heights, when the Cincinnati Wing has opened at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Taft Museum of Art opens this weekend, and the Fine Arts Fund exceeded its goal, I think it says volumes about what's going on in the community," Stern says. "This, for us, is the icing on the cake."
The American Theatre Wing has given the award annually since 1976. The Playhouse will receive the award June 6 as part of the nationally televised 58th annual Tony Awards broadcast.
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