My Theatre

28 May 2020

The 2019 Critics’ Pick Award Winners: Theatre

By // Theatre (Toronto)

2020 has been a struggle with theatres shut down the world over and gatherings like our annual Critics’ Pick Awards party being cancelled in order to keep everyone safe in the time of Covid. We were supposed to announce our winners and celebrate together with the Toronto theatre community on April 6th but when the social isolation recommendations came through we decided to step back, take more time with the Nominee Interview Series, draw in a few more Fan Favourite votes and Stage Management Award nominations, and really savour our memories of the 2019 theatre season, especially after we got to experience so little of the 2020 one. We’re finally ready to release the list of winners. We have trophies for all of them and, once it’s safe, we hope to get together and give them the celebration they deserve. In the meantime, let’s cheer from a safe distance.

Don’t miss our 2019 Nominee Interview Series, featuring exclusive interviews with dozens of this year’s nominated artists and be sure to check out Awards Headquarters for more from the Critics’ Pick Awards, including the Film and TV winners. 

Without further ado, the winners are:

Outstanding Solo Performance
Anand Rajaram in Buffoon 
(Tarragon Theatre)
The incredible range, intense emotion, and fabulous dark humour in this tour-de-force solo performance from the ultra-committed Anand Rajaram in Tarragon’s beautiful production of Anosh Irani’s Buffoon stood out to our critics and made this one of the easiest consensus decisions of the season.

Outstanding New Play
Guarded Girls by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman 
(Green Light Arts/Tarragon)
Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman’s intensely researched and meticulously developed new play set in a women’s prison was one of those rare new works you see for the first time and fully expect to see again and again as it takes its deserved place in the Canadian canon. Moving, funny, disturbing, and everything in between.

Outstanding Ensemble
The Doll Play: A Miniature Revolution 
(Blood Pact Theatre/Witchboy Theatre)
When submitting his nominations this year, the critic who reviewed this piece had a difficult time choosing whom to nominate in the individual categories, wanting to single them all out. That across-the-board strength paired with the cohesion of the cast as a group playing off each other made this another easy choice.

Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Play
Sergio Di Zio in Between Riverside and Crazy 
(Coal Mine Theatre)
In one of our most competitive categories of the year, Di Zio’s impactful and grounded performance in this intimate Coal Mine piece stood out in our memories as a true scene stealer. He’s the first of two winners from the Coal Mine’s ever-impressive roster.

Outstanding Leading Performance in a Play
Frank Cox-O’Connell in Hand to God 
(Coal Mine Theatre)
Also from the Coal Mine, Cox-O’Connell’s extraordinary performance in this odd and demanding play was so inarguable that we broke a rule to give him this award (we try not to give someone back to back awards and he’s the reigning Outstanding Direction winner for last year’s Romeo & Juliet).

Outstanding Performance in a Musical
Ben Caplan in Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story 
(2b Theatre Company/Tarragon)
Ben Caplan’s work is so creative and thrilling, and he’s such an amazing presence onstage, that one of our staff writers dragged a friend all the way to Peterborough just to see him in another show after watching him own the stage in Old Stock, one of the most memorable productions of the year.

Outstanding Design
Nick Blais, Nick Bottomley, Anahita Dehbonehie, Richard Feren
for The Flick 

(Crow’s Theatre/Outside the March)
Detail was key in the exceptional design work we chose to single out this year. The cohesive Flick team brought together incredible sound and projection work with a meticulous immersive set design and character-perfect costumes to great effect.

Outstanding Direction
Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu for Trout Stanley
(Factory Theatre)
For her creative reimagining of Canadian classic Trout Stanley at the Factory Theatre, rising directorial superstar Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu took a familiar story and memorably remade it into something new that honoured the original tale but also represented her truth.

Outstanding Production
A Streetcar Named Desire 
(Soulpepper Theatre Company)
The writer who nominated this piece described it as “successfully wrought”. It was also deeply felt and truly unforgettable. Perfectly cast and excellently executed, Streetcar beautifully showcased Weyni Mengesha’s embrace of the company’s strengths and her ability to see beyond tradition.

Emerging Artist
Landon Doak
Though most of the work we saw from Landon Doak in 2019 was remounts or expansions of existing material (Peter Pan, Life in a Box), revisiting these pieces was a wake up call to the fact that he’s at least a couple years overdue to win the Emerging Artist award (we use the term “emerging” loosely to mean “pay more attention to this person!”). For our money he’s the best young musical theatre composer in the country.

The Anonymous Award for Outstanding Stage Management
Aidan Hammond (The Huns)
The Huns‘ unique technical demands required incredible precision and theatrical instincts far beyond the usual call of duty for even the best stage manager. Tons of nominations were submitted on Hammond’s behalf from the artists she worked with and, in this particular case, we as audience members could plainly see that the praise is well-deserved.

Fan Favourite
Alicia Ault
Beloved for her wonderful supporting performance in Tapestry Opera/Theatre Passe Muraille’s opera/musical theatre hybrid Hook Up, Alicia Ault absolutely dominated our popular vote award, winning with a landslide majority of nearly 80% of the votes that we received over email or social media since nominations were announced at midnight on January 1st.

Performer of the Year
Jonathan Tan (Sex, Glass Menagerie)
The ever-versatile Jonathan Tan delivered the most interesting and memorable track of any festival actor last season. He gave our favourite Shaw performance of the year as a kind, charismatic Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie then turned around to play a delicate, vulnerable woman in Peter Hinton’s boldly interpreted production of Sex by Mae West.

Honorary Award
Weyni Mengesha
We’ve long known Weyni Mengesha as one of the best stage directors in Canada (she won our directing award for 2016 and a show she directed is this year’s Outstanding Production) but in 2019 it was her new role as Artistic Director at Soulpepper that earned her the Honorary Award. Mengesha officially began her duties in January 2019 so we felt the close of her first full year at the reins was the perfect time to celebrate the innovation, inclusion, and just plain great art that’s come from her promotion. The halls of Soulpepper have never been so full of life, the work has never been so vital, and her new accessibility programs are making it possible for new audiences to feel welcome and wanted within the walls of Toronto’s greatest theatre. The work that’s come out of Soulpepper in the last year has revealed Mengesha’s keen eye for talent- she hasn’t totally rebuilt, she’s just thrown open the doors, blending existing company players with fantastic new finds and bringing fresh eyes to the classic texts the company is known for. Soulpepper is still Soulpepper but it’s a better Soulpepper- a kinder, smarter, fresher, more relevant, more inclusive, more useful Soulpepper and the buck stops at the top.

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