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Date of Issue: June 23, 2005

'Metamorphoses' overwhelming winner at AACT Fest '05
metamorphoses pic
All smiles from Kalamazoo
The top-prize winners, cast, artistic staff and crew of Manatee Players' "Metamorphoses," at the award ceremony for the American Association of Community Theatre AACT Fest '05 in Kalamazoo, Mich. Photo courtesy of Fred Western, Universal Photo, Kalamazoo

Unfurl the banners; ring the bells; sound the trumpets - the intrepid Manatee Players' dazzling production of "Metamorphoses" has triumphed at the national level of the American Association of Community Theatre in Kalamazoo, Mich.

With solid multiple prizes at the state and regional levels, they soared to victory, sweeping every major prize at AACT Fest '05.

In addition to the top prize of Best Production, the Players captured Best Director for Rick Kerby; Best Set by Kerby and Jeff Chase; Best Overall Actress, Cheryl Clifford; Best Sound for violinist Mary E. Page; and Outstanding Ensemble (for the entire brilliant cast). Only Bill Booth's miraculous lighting was overlooked, and I can't imagine why. His imaginative work was one of the highlights of the last performance at Bradenton's Riverfront Theatre, which I saw just before they packed the set left for Michigan.

I had seen the first performance at the Manatee County Fairgrounds, which had not totally settled in to Kerby's dynamic design. There was an insecurity and tentativeness that kept the production from soaring. By that final performance in Bradenton, boy did it soar! Vocally, physically and spiritually it had blossomed into one of the most beautifully expressive creations in my theater-going memory. Florida Studio Theatre did a lovely staging last season, but I was more moved by the Manatee Players.

Kerby's vision was brave and adventurous, with a vitality and imaginative sweep that knocks your socks off. Using a ritual stylization and bold, audacious choreography, he found the perfect cast to embody these tales from Greek mythology.

Tom Aposporos (Island resident and former Anna Maria city commissioner) leads things off in fine style as a dotty, beautifully spoken King Midas, with his blazer, ascot and dark glasses, and one of the most amazing first appearances I have ever seen. Still haven't figured it out!

There is magic at every turn: Fred and Laurie Zimmerman's transformation into flying sea-birds as the resurrected Ceyx and Alcyone; Jaz Zimmerman's ethereal beauty as the winged, naked Eros; Elizabeth Hartman as the beautiful, vibrantly voluptuous Aphrodite; Candace Artim, bringing warmth and depth to the Nurse, in the evening's most highly charged scene between a blindfolded father and his incestuous daughter. David Brown as Cinyras and Cheryl Clifford as Myrrha play with a boldness and incredible physical dexterity, performing Kerby's erotic pas de deux in the pool of water that is the centerpiece of this production. It is an electrifying sequence. Laurie Zimmerman and Larry Hamm make an extraordinary effect in the Erisichthon/Hunger section, and Diana Shoemaker is charming in multiple roles. Jody Herbert-Hamm, Sondra McClintock and Meg Newsome add strong vocal support as the singing sirens.

One of Kerby's most inspired stagings was the shipwreck at sea, with the entire ensemble contributing to a glorious fusion of theatrical arts. Small wonder they came home with the Outstanding Ensemble Award.

So from success at the state level in Lakeland, to victory in the Southeast finals in Greensboro, to total triumph in Kalamazoo, our merry band of players has brought honor to the entire state. All we need now is a corporate sponsor to whisk them off to Monaco for the International Festival next year. In the meantime, let's honor the Manatee Players by getting that magnificent new Riverfront Theatre constructed.

Cast member Zimmerman, who called to give me the news after the award banquet, was bubbling over with joy and gratitude for the treatment the entire cast received from all of Kalamazoo - the hotel, the theater, the other contestants. They were welcomed into homes for dinners with Kalamazoo Civic Theatre members and enjoyed seeing the other entries in the competition. The three adjudicators, who gave their critiques for each production, were fair, well-informed professionals. All agreed it was a totally positive experience.

The cast of Metamorphoses is having a T-shirt made that says: "We went to Kalamazoo and it was good!"

Indeed it was. Bravo.