Army Europe theater awards send crowd over the top
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 24, 2016
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — There was glitz, glamor and enough drama to elicit screams of 11 on the “Spinal Tap” scale.
About the only thing missing from the Army in Europe’s version of Broadway’s Tony Awards Saturday night was long acceptance speeches.
Winners rushed to the stage to accept their golden “Toppers” — a gleaming gold statuette hoisting a star. They then beamed for a few stunned seconds while getting their photos snapped in front of an audience of more than 400 packed inside the Armstrong’s Club ballroom at Vogelweh.
No more than 15 seconds on stage was the rule, a limit imposed because of the large number of troupes up for recognition.
Among the night’s big winners was Wiesbaden’s Amelia Earhart Playhouse, which earned about a dozen Toppers, including prizes for the best play, best ensemble for a musical, best director and several actor awards.
This theater season, some 644 military personnel, civilians and family members volunteered at their local theaters in far-flung military communities across Europe. They served in every imaginable role — as actors and singers, musicians, directors, costume makers and ticket sellers.
Fifty awards were presented at the annual Installation Management Command Europe Tournament of Plays Toppers awards ceremony. The show salutes the best work — on stage and behind the curtain — of 11 theater programs at Army and Air Force bases in Germany, Italy and Belgium.
The night went long, with more than three hours of presentations and high-energy performances. Actors and singers showcased musical numbers from “Guys and Dolls,” “Into the Woods,” “The Fantasticks” and other shows. The acts came from some of the 16 productions that were critiqued this season by three judges, who traveled throughout Europe reviewing up to two musicals or plays at each community theater.
Nominations — there were 200 in more than 40 categories — aren’t disclosed in advance, creating a high level of anticipation. Adding to the night’s excitement were video appearances by several guest celebrities, including William Shatner, Sean Hayes, Harvey Fierstein, Dean Cain and Lin-Manuel Miranda. They read off nominees and winners and gave shout-outs to fellow theater types in the audience. It was a big night for the Earhart Playhouse, and the giddy Wiesbaden crowd made no effort to conceal its joy.
“I’m over the roof,” said Spc. Joseph Morsher, an Army human resources specialist at Wiesbaden, who was involved in three productions this season. “This is the best showing, I think, the (playhouse) has ever done.”
Morsher said theater is a big part of his life. The rewards of being part of a theater “family” far outweigh the nerves he can’t quite calm while on stage, he said.
“I’m always a wreck inside until the final bows are taken. But I feel an immense pride. I feel more alive when I’m doing it.”
Senior Airman Eli Rios, who tied for best military actor in a play for his portrayal of Southern simpleton Turnip Moss in the SHAPE Players’ “The Lucky Spot” in Belgium, said it’s challenging to balance a military job with long hours of rehearsal.
“You’re tired at the end of the day, you’re tired in the morning,” he said, “but at the end of the day, when you perform well in your job, when you perform well in the theater, that’s what it’s all about.”
Nicole Soren, an Army spouse from Stuttgart, was delighted to win a Topper for best hair and wig design for the Stuttgart Theatre Center’s production of “Stage Door.”
Soren researched hairstyles from the 1930s and helped train the actors to do their own hair.
The Topper was a surprise. “I got one a couple of years ago for a performance, but this is really cool because, I mean, it’s for hair and I just really didn’t expect it.”