I’ve known Ed Bassett, the executive manager and artistic director of the Phoenix Stage Company, to be excited before, but there was no doubt that this time he was ecstatic and rightfully so. Phoenix Stage Company walked away with a couple awards at the Connecticut Community Theatre Festival held at the Warner Theatre in Torrington on Sept. 8. One Night With Fanny Brice won Outstanding Production and will now move on to represent Connecticut at the New England Regional Festival in March.
In addition to this amazing award, Mary Cantoni Johnson received the Best Actor in a Solo Performance. T. J. Thompson took the Best Music Direction, while Sharon W. Houk’s lighting design earned her yet another award.
As if all these awards were not enough, the Phoenix Stage Company also received a Special Judges’ Award for developing Chip Deffaa’s script.
I’m not surprised that this production won so many awards. When I first saw the Phoenix production of this show, which was during a dress rehearsal, it was when the Phoenix was located in Naugatuck. I titled my review Fanny Brice Lives Again at the Phoenix. I concluded my review with “I can only imagine that this show will be a big winner.” And so it has become just that and I congratulate each and every member for such well-deserved distinction.
I spoke with one of the judges, Benny Sato Ambush of Boston who has so many credits in theater that I don’t have enough room to mention them all. Just know that this adjudicator is a professional SDC stage director, former producer, and the artistic director of two professional theaters. He is also a theater teacher, a consultant and was a senior distinguished producing director-in-residence of Emerson Stage as well as acting/directing faculty member in Emerson’s Performing Arts Department.
He told me that what made this Phoenix production stand out from the others was that it told a story about a courageous woman who had great success in her public life, but trouble in her private life. “This story makes for great theater,” he said adding that it is a bio-drama with music that documents a great woman. He said it was a pleasure to see it added to the theater canon and that it will play in theaters all over the country. He raved about Thompson’s musicianship and how well it wove itself with Johnson’s beautiful voice.
He also fell in love with one of the props in the set. It was a red easy chair that he said you just want to fall into it and curl up. “I offered them a million dollars for it, but they said it was too perfect for this show.” He also said that to add insult to injury the crew told him they found the chair in a thrift store for $15.
This show is like that little train that could. Here’s a one-woman show that started in Naugatuck and did so well that it moved on to New York. Mary performed in the Off Broadway production so many times that she eventually made a cast recording of the show.
Not only does this show have a lot of life, but it has legs and will easily travel on to other theaters in other states. Congratulations again to the Phoenix Stage Company. I’m certain there will be many more awards in their future. The Phoenix Stage Company is a gem shining so bright that people everywhere are taking notice. And here it is right in our backyard. Check it out.
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