December 20, 2014

Gala celebrates 50 years of Piedmont Players

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 6, 2012

By Deirdre Parker Smith
Piedmont Players celebrated its 50th anniversary with style.
And I don’t mean just Gary Thornburg’s tuxedo.
The gala event last Saturday night featured awards for each decade, performances from favorite musicals and lots and lots of applause.
Director Reid Leonard and the rest of the crew who planned the evening were smart. Start with wine for the gala guests — it always makes for a more jovial audience.
Excitement built as the crowd crushed into the lobby. It made it hard to see the red-carpet fashions, but that was part of the show, too.
Finally seated in the Meroney Theater, forbidden glasses of wine still in hand, the audience was ready to trip down memory lane. Many gala-goers, of course, had been Piedmont players themselves,which added to the celebratory feel.
Two follow spots in the balcony indicated something out of the ordinary would happen.
Kent Bernhardt in his NASCAR tuxedo (a suit) and Thornburg, in a real tuxedo, traded jibes and kept the gala moving at a fine pace. There are not two more suitable people to be masters of ceremonies. They represent the decades of shows and a range of characters.
The big event was bestowing the Petey Awards for each decade of Piedmont Players performances. The presenters had scripts, too, and served as another review of the decades, as Tom Harrell and Ed Brown started out with the awards from the 1960s.
Each decade featured actors from the period, and award recipients were greeted with applause, whistles, whoops. The smart thing here: No acceptance speeches. Smile and get off the stage. It kept things moving.
To remind the audience just how good Piedmont’s musicals can be, performers brought back old favorites in between the awards.
It was great to see the two casts of “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” some of whom were in both shows, decades apart, and great to see them smiling and singing, having a good time.
Probably the most tender moment came with Kent Bernhardt and Patsy Parnell sang a duet from “I Have a Dream,” from the “The King and I.” Parnell simply does not age and it was good to hear Bernhardt sing again.
The cast of the perennial favorite “Smoke on the Mountain” reunited for another sweet reminiscence.
The Norvell Youth All-Stars nearly brought the house down with their medley from past shows. Great energy on the stage with that group.
Of course, any time Alexis Greer appears, you can expect a powerful performance. Again, she sent chills over the audience with her number from “Dreamgirls,” “You’re Gonna Love Me.”
And Debbie Hubbard-Pastore, another strong presence from Piedmont’s past (and future, I hope) left the audience wanting more as she sang “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from her star turn as “Evita.”
The awards were not at all predictable — nor were the nominations. The same four categories were awarded in each decade, 1961-71, 1971-81, 1981-91, 1991-2001 and 2001-2011, favorite musical, favorite non-musical, favorite male performer and favorite female performer.
It lead to a lot of, “Oh, I remember that” moments for everyone. And some great improv. When the wildly talented Gary Thornburg won, along with Marty Walker, the Most Memorable Couple, for “Hairspray,” Walker planted a sweet kiss on Thornburg’s lips.
And speaking of Thornburg, he won the inaugural Gary Thornburg Award for favorite cross-dressing performance in “Hairspray.”
Just as the awards were winding down, Alexis Greer appeared onstage to give Reid Leonard an award for his 25 years with Piedmont Players. Leonard looked genuinely surprised and a little shaken by the presentation, but graciously accepted it. Leonard works tirelessly for Piedmont and has guided some remarkable shows. He earns accolades just for moving forward and taking the community with him.
Then, it was my turn to stumble through a few words about being the critic. I honestly do not remember what I said, but was reminded of this phrase: “When you take a bow, be proud of what you accomplished.”
Piedmont Players, take a bow.

Petey Award Winners
Favorite Female Performer: Pat Heiss (then Pat Vaughn)
Favorite Male Performer: Karl Hales
Favorite Musical: “Hello, Dolly”
Favorite Non-Musical: “The Odd Couple”
Favorite Female Performer: Patsy Parnell
Favorite Male Performer: Kent Bernhardt
Favorite Musical: “The Sound of Music”
Favorite Non-musical: “A Christmas Carol”
Favorite Female Performer: Debbie Hubbard-Pastore
Favorite Male Performer: John Brincefield.
Favorite musical: “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”
Favorite Non-Musical: “Noises Off.”
Favorite Female Performer: Monika Borras Bigsby
Favorite Male Performer: Kevin Eddinger
Favorite Musical: “Sweeney Todd”
Favorite Non-Musical: “A Streetcar Named Desire”
Favorite Female Performer: Becky Lippard
Favorite Male Performer: Seth Labovitz
Favorite Musical: “Hairspray.”
Favorite Non-Musical: “The Miracle Worker”
Special awards
Most Memorable Set: “Peter Pan”
Most Memorable Couple: Gary Thornburg, Marty Walker, from “Hairspray”
Best Portrayal of Someone Famous: Robert Hackett as Humphrey Bogart
Best Death Scene: John Biggers, “Jesus Christ Superstar”
Best Cross-Dressing Performance: Lauren Gaskill, “The Three Musketeers”
Most Memorable Villain: Becky Lippard, “Sweeney Todd”
The Gary Thornburg Award: Favorite Cross-Dressing Performance, “Hairspray”