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article image‘Come From Away’, ‘Rocking Horse’, ʻFather’ win big at Doras Special

By Jeff Cottrill     Jun 27, 2017 in Entertainment
Toronto - Although “Come From Away”, “Father Comes Home from the Wars” and “Rocking Horse Winner” were among the top winners at last night’s Dora Mavor Moore Awards, the night really seemed to belong to the late Jon Kaplan much of the time.
The NOW theatre critic, who passed away in April, was a huge presence at the otherwise routine awards ceremony for Toronto theatre at the Elgin Theatre, where an empty “Reserved for Jon Kaplan” chair stood at stage left. He was also the subject of a number of heartfelt tributes from members of the local stage community, and the Doras’ audience choice award has now been named after him.
Actor, playwright and poet d’bi Young, who co-presented awards for dance productions, shared memories of having Kaplan as a mentor. “I learned that I’m accountable to you,” she told the audience.
Doras producer Jacoba Knaapen, who is also the executive director of the Toronto Alliance of the Performing Arts (TAPA), also paid homage to the well-loved critic in her introduction to the Jon Kaplan Audience Choice Award (which went to Come From Away). She recalled meeting Kaplan for the first time when he saw her in a play – and then told her, “‘This show should be nominated for a Dora,’” she remembered.
Local smash hit Come From Away – the Broadway production of which is now playing to sold-out houses and recently won the Tony for best director of a musical for Christopher Ashley – also received the Doras for Outstanding Musical Production, Outstanding New Musical or Opera and Outstanding Female Performance in a musical for Jenn Colella. The show is based on the true story of how the citizens of Gander, Newfoundland sheltered more than 6,500 stranded air passengers in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“Kindness is accessible at all times, not only in the wake of tragedy,” Colella wrote in her acceptance speech, which was read on her behalf, as she couldn’t attend the ceremony.
But the biggest winner of the night was Tapestry Opera’s Rocking Horse Winner, an updated adaptation of the classic D.H. Lawrence short story, which came away with five Doras: Outstanding Production, Ensemble Performance, Lighting, Direction (Michael Hidetoshi Mori) and Male Performance (Asitha Tennekoon) in the opera categories.
Tennekoon’s emotional acceptance speech thanked his family in Sri Lanka, for “teaching me the importance of sacrifice and hard work.”
Soulpepper’s Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts I, II, III) nabbed the award for Outstanding Production in the general category, while This Is the Point, a co-production of Ahuri Theatre and the Theatre Centre, won the same award in the independent category, as well as Outstanding Ensemble Performance.
Outstanding Dance Production went to what it’s like, another Theatre Centre co-production (with adelheid), while Anita Majumdar’s Boys with Cars won the Doras for Outstanding New Play and Individual Performance in the young-audience categories. Majumdar also paid tribute to Jon Kaplan, saying that the last time she had seen the critic was while working with the show.
Robert LePage’s highly acclaimed memory play 887, which returned to Toronto in April after a 2015 run, won for Outstanding Touring Production. Nick Green’s Body Politic was picked as Outstanding New Play in the general division, with Bad Hats Theatre’s Peter Pan winning Outstanding Production, Direction and Ensemble Performance for young audiences.
Other multiple winners included Soulpepper’s revisionist Tudor drama, The Last Wife, which received the Doras for Outstanding Female Performance (Maev Beaty) and Scenic Design in the general categories, and Canadian Stage’s acclaimed production of Annie Baker’s John, which won the same awards in the indie categories, the former to Nora McLellan. The Silver Ticket Award for lifetime achievement was awarded to veteran arts advocate Jane Marsland.
Aside from the Kaplan tributes, the 2017 Doras was a straightforward show with no drama and few diversions, just cranking out award after award until nearly eleven o’clock. Host Raoul Bhaneja kicked things off with an anecdote about his old job sweeping the Berkeley Street Theatre during the Doras back in the 1990s, then led his jazz band, The Big Time, into a musical number dedicated to all the nominees who were not destined to win that night. “Just because you’re gonna lose / You don’t have to have them blues,” Bhaneja sang.
Other highlights included an unexpected impromptu performance by the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, which won for Best Ensemble Performance in a musical for Counting Sheep, and a handful of politically charged speeches. Body Politic playwright Nick Green referenced last year’s Orlando tragedy, while the creators of This Is the Point – a play about sufferers of cerebral palsy – sent a message about acceptance of the differently abled: “Inclusion means you’re willing to change. So I ask you, are you willing to change?”
Forty-eight competitive awards were given out in the ceremony, which was administered by TAPA.
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