Last night I covered my very first Dora Awards. For those of you who don’t know, The Doras are sort of like Toronto’s Tonys, celebrating the best in Dance, Opera, Independent Theatre, General Theatre and Theatre for Young Audiences. The night started out with a VIP cocktail reception in the basement lounge of the Sony Centre, then moved to the Bluma Appel Theatre for the main event hosted by Ragtime/Priscilla star Thom Allison, and concluded out on Front St. with an open-air after party. While the award show ran a little long and the production could have used a little tightening, it was an overall fun night.

Here are the highlights (and a lowlight or two):

– The cocktail party where my guest and I sipped the event’s signature crantinis, ate pizza, and star-spotted as the nominees and other Toronto theatre bigwigs flooded in. We chatted with the folks behind soon-to-be Dora winning Theatre Smash and a random fashionable stranger called my dress “fucking fabulous”, which just made my night (it’s my favourite:  a 50s-style white chiffon halter with navy blue polka dots, a crinoline and sweetheart neckline from Fashion Crimes).

– Thom Allison’s opening number. A big chorus backed up the tophatted star as he crooned his way thr0ugh a joke-laden tribute to the Toronto theatre scene. He stumbled a bit on his opening remarks after that but the insider jokes all landed, as well as my favourite: “hello, my name is Thom and I’ll be your Neil Patrick Harris for the evening”.

–  Ravi Jain wins the Pauline McGibbon Award for a young performer at the start of his career. Ravi did a workshop at my highschool many years ago and he’s The Nicest Guy In The World so I was thrilled to see him honoured at the Doras. His exuberant acceptance speech kicked off a recurring mantra of the night as Ravi had everyone in the theatre shout “Joy!”. He also uttered one of my other favourite lines of the night: “We killed it in theatre this year”, cause you did, guys, you really did, even if some of the best work in town was almost completely ignored by the Doras (namely Studio 180’s The Normal Heart).

– Nigel Shawn Williams wins for Topdog/Underdog and gives the best speech of the night. I Loved Topdog/Underdog, and particularly NSW in it so I was thrilled to see him win. The show also took home Best Director and Best Play (director Philip Akin accepted both awards with particularly great speeches as well, bringing back “Joy!” and praising Ravi as an inspiration). What I loved about Nigel Shawn Williams’ speech, in particular, was his dedication to costar Kevin Hanchard (saying “it literally makes no sense that I should be up here without him… people, hire this man more!”) and his declaration that we don’t honour our Stage Managers enough (a thought that inspired the most thunderous applause of the night).

The Ugly One wins Best Independent Production! Theatre Smash’s crazy exploration of vanity was nothing short of fantastic so I’m thrilled with their win.

Lowlight: Caroline or Change wins Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Musical and Musical Director. While I’m thrilled for the amazingly talented Reza Jacobs and was expecting the win for Arlene Duncan since the category was 4 Caroline or Change actresses against Jane Johanson for Seussical, I still don’t get the Caroline or Change obsession. I thought it was silly and somewhat uninspired. Ride the Cyclone (Winner of Outstanding Touring Production) was better but still not as awesome as general opinion. I think Acting up Stage has and can do better, but that’s clearly Such a minority opinion.

Iphigenia in Tauris wins Outstanding Opera Production. This was the first season that I saw every single Canadian Opera Company production and I couldn’t agree more!

– Crash does crazy well. I didn’t see it but now I sincerely wish I had. The only drawbacks to Crash‘s success are losses for Maev Beaty (The Happy Woman) in Best Actress and, most likely the biggest twist of the night, Ins Choi‘s smash hit Kim’s Convenience.

– “S#!t Theatre People Say”, the first video based on that obnoxious meme that’s actually made me laugh. Interviewing Dora nominees and other well-known Toronto theatre folk, “S#!t Theatre People Say” was, as Thom Allison pointed out, “funny because it’s true”.

Lowlight: the In Memoriam segment, though touching, was awkwardly silent. Couldn’t someone have sung a nice ballad instead of forcing the audience to listen to themselves breathe, overhear not-so-subtle whispering, and clap loudly for some but not all the honoured departed? I would also have appreciated a descriptor line under each name so we knew who everyone was even if they weren’t incredibly famous.

– The after party had free ice cream. ‘nough said.