The Colorado Theatre Guild’s annual Henry Awards lived up to their reputation as a wildly unpredictable ride that is rife for runaways — and this year it was the Arvada Center and Miners Alley Playhouse who did the running away from the rest of the pack.

The Arvada Center took home eight of the 28 competitive awards, including Outstanding Production of a Play for its contemporary adaptation of Sense and Sensibility — on wheels. It also won Outstanding Season for a Theatre Company, the evening’s highest honor, for the first time since 2012.   

OpenStage Theatre of Fort Collins and Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College were next with two Henry Awards each. In all, the awards were spread among 14 companies.

Miners Alley Playhouse was one of three Colorado companies that jumped at the chance to be first to stage homegrown productions of the groundbreaking musical Fun Home, and its staging in Golden emerged as the most honored production of the year with five Henry Awards, including Outstanding Production of a Musical, Direction and Musical Direction.

Fun Home is the first Broadway musical ever to feature a lesbian protagonist, and Sophia Dotson, who plays the youngest of three versions of the lead character, became the youngest winner of a Henry in history when she emerged from a field of eight to win Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical. She turned 12 in May — and on Monday sent the audience into cheers with her rendition of “Ring of Keys.”

The Arvada Center went into the awards leading all companies with a record 29 nominations, followed by the Fine Arts Center’s 24. In all, the three Colorado Fun Homes — at Miners Alley Playhouse, the Fine Arts Center at Colorado College and the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins — earned 19 nominations and won seven awards. The other two Fun Home awards went to the Fine Arts Center for lighting and sound.

Sense and Sensibility, which launched the Arvada Center’s second year with a full seasonal company of resident actors, was the most honored play of the year, with three awards. In addition to Outstanding Production of a Play, it won for Outstanding Direction (Lynne Collins) and Outstanding Ensemble.

Shannon McKinney continued her history-making run at the Henrys, winning her record seventh individual Henry Award for lighting design, this time for the Arvada Center’s Sunday in the Park with George. On the other end of the spectrum, Clare Henkel won her first costuming award (for the same show), after 10 nominations.

Buntport Theater creates and performs everything as an ensemble, but that didn’t stop Erin Rollman from winning her fourth individual Henry award for acting, this time as Lead Actress in a Play, for The Book Handlers. The seven-time nominee is now tied with Megan Van De Hey for most acting wins in Henry Awards history. Emma Messenger won her third Henry in five years, as a supporting actress in  The Edge Theater Company’s Mud Blue Sky. Chris Kendall won his third Henry Award, this time as Outstanding Actor in Miners Alley Playhouse’s District Merchants.

The Arvada Center’s Brian Mallgrave won his fourth Henry Award for scenic design (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), although he had a leg up on the field — he was nominated three times in the category this year for three remarkable shows. Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck also won her fourth Henry Award for choreography (Arvada Center’s Joseph …).

The previously announced 2018 Lifetime Achievement winner was Wendy Ishii, co-founder of the 25-year-old Bas Bleu Theatre in Fort Collins. Under her leadership, Bas Bleu completed a $1.5 million capital campaign to purchase the historic Giddings Building as its permanent home in 2012, which makes Bas Bleu the only nonprofit theatre in northern Colorado to own its own building. Ishii and Bas Bleu have won critical acclaim at the international, national, state and local levels and is considered a hotbed for the works of Samuel Beckett.

To underscore just what a roller-coaster the Henry Awards can be from year to year, consider that last year, the Arvada Center earned 16 nominations but won only one award, while the DCPA Theatre Company led all companies with five wins. What a difference a year makes.

Monday was humbling evening for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, which produced 15 eligible shows last season between its Theatre Company, Cabaret and Off-Center divisions but received only one award — Lauren Yee’s The Great Leapshared the Outstanding New Play or Musical honor with 5280 Artist Co-op’s Colorism: Breaking the Chains of Complexion. No DCPA Theatre Company production finished among the 14 nominated plays and musicals, and of the 58 individual acting nominations, the Denver Center received only two.

Among the evening’s other biggest surprises: The Fine Arts Center’s production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which led all productions with 11 nominations, won no awards.

The Henry Awards honor outstanding achievements by the Colorado Theatre Guild’s member companies, and the event serves as its annual fundraiser. The awards are named for longtime local theatre producer Henry Lowenstein. Nominations are determined through a judging process conducted by more than 45 adjudicators from the community.

A number of the metro area’s most prestigious theatre companies found themselves on the sidelines this year, including Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, The Catamounts, Phamaly Theatre Company, BDT Stage and Town Hall Arts Center. Other top area companies have removed themselves from Henry Awards consideration for various reasons, including Curious Theatre, the Lake Dillon Theatre Company and Germinal Stage-Denver.

The Henry Awards split the four design categories into two tiers determined by member companies’ annual overall operating budgets. Only seven companies have annual budgets above the $1.2 million threshold and therefore are considered Tier I: The DCPA, Arvada Center, Creede Repertory Theatre, Theatre Aspen, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and Colorado Springs TheatreWorks. The rest all compete in Tier II. But both categories still get seven (and sometimes eight) nominees.

Holly Rawls won her second consecutive Henry Award for Tier I lighting, for the Fine Arts Center’s Fun Home. Last year she won for Man of La Mancha.

The 2018 ceremony was  presented Monday  in a revamped format at the Lone Tree Arts Center, itself an emerging Henry Awards favorite with five wins in the past three years. This year also marked a departure from the awards’ signature trophy — a ceramic replica of namesake Henry Lowenstein’s face designed by local artist Barry Rose. For each of the first 12 years, the mask took a different color. This year the trophy was a more traditional glass award.

First-time directors Betty Hart and Robert Michael Sanders chose to present the show with no designated hosts. Instead, local actor Mare Trevathan served as an off-stage voice narrating the action. The goal was to bring the show in at under three hours, and it came in at a brisk 2 hours and 30 minutes.

The new energy was evident from the original opening number, written by David Nehls and choreographed by Jessica Hindsley, that brought together performers representing companies from around the state. Later, they returned to participate in an abbreviated rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” sung by Henry Award nominees Nehls (DCPA’s The Wild Party) and Norrell Moore (BDT Stage’s Always … Patsy Cline.) A recurring highlight of the evening was the powerful live performances from many of the seven Outstanding Musical nominees, including Outstanding Actor in a Musical winner Jake Mendes and Moore bringing the crowd to its feet for “Origin of Love” from the Aurora Fox’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Moving forward, the Colorado Theatre Guild has instituted several changes to  the judging system that went into effect June 1 for the 2019 awards, including increasing the number of judges who will consider each production from five to nine. To achieve that, the Guild has vastly increased the judging pool to more than 100. In addition, judges no longer choose which shows they attend and judge — they are now assigned specific productions by CTG staff.

Again the ceremony include a video tribute to those from the theatre community who have died in the past year:

  • Ed Berry, actor, director, photographer
  • Patti Bippus, former Denver School of the Arts principal
  • Jackie Campbell, theatre critic
  • Xavier Frétard, performance artist
  • Trent Armand Kendall, actor
  • Daniel Langhoff, actor
  • Norman “Max” Maxwell, actor
  • Lynette Reagan, administrator, Funky Little Theatre
  • Lou Ripp, co-founder, Magic Moments
  • Emily Manion Roebken, teacher and singer
  • Mary Scobey, teacher, Loveland High School
  • Howard Semones, actor and imprv comedy
  • Richard Spomer, lighting and scenic designer
  • Ken Street, actor
  • Allene Suazo, ticketing and sales, DCPA and Phamaly
  • Christopher Tye, actor
  • Ruth Ann White, actor, Phamaly Theatre Company
  • Deb Zarich, Scenic Design and Decoration, Longmont Theatre Company
  • Mike Zarich, Technical Director, Longmont Theatre Company

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.