Tony takes shine to Seattle

Intiman named the year's top regional theater

SEATTLE — Tony likes Seattle. And from the sounds of the hooting and hollering across town the morning the award nominations were announced, it’s clear Seattle loves Tony right back.

The city’s artists and institutions were remarkably well represented on Tony’s short list, starting with Intiman Theater, named the year’s top regional theater. Intiman artistic director Bartlett Sher landed eight nominations (including director) for his revival of “Awake and Sing!” at Lincoln Center Theater. Other Seattle celebrants: the staff of the 5th Avenue Theater, which spawned “The Wedding Singer,” recipient of five nods (including musical); and choreographer Donald Byrd, singled out for his work for “The Color Purple.”

“This tells the world what we already knew,” says Michael Killoren, director of Seattle’s office of arts and cultural affairs. “This is an important theater town. Creativity is in the water in this city.”

The city of Seattle recently undertook a study attempting to quantify the region’s “creative vitality.” It showed that “Seattle is 5.68 times the national average, through a complex series of indicators,” Killoren said.

Laura Penn, Intiman’s managing director, concurs: “Seattle is a vibrant, intelligent, cutting-edge community — a great place for artists to live and make their work.”

Intiman’s honor rewards several years of outstanding work, Penn says, including ” ‘The Light in the Piazza,’ which no one thought would have the legs it would have; the American Cycle (a five-year commitment to staging classic American texts); and Bart’s trajectory as leader of a theater and as an individual artist.”

It comes at a time of robust box office for Intiman. “We have the highest renewal rate we’ve had in 10 years,” Penn notes, “almost 10 points higher than the national average (of 63%) reported by Theater Communications Group.”

Noms for “Wedding Singer” further bolster 5th Avenue’s role as a reliable incubator of new musicals. The theater birthed “Hairspray” and is now prepping for another John Waters pic-turned-tuner, “Cry-Baby,” planned to bow in February.

As for Byrd, “His talent and vision is incredible,” says Penn. He revitalized a small Seattle dance company, Spectrum, leading it on a successful tour to New York earlier this season. “We’ve long had a reputation as a center for dance, with Pat Graney, Mark Morris, Merce Cuningham, Bill Evans,” adds Killoren.

Only one Seattle theater prior to Intiman had won Tony’s top regional honor: Seattle Repertory Theater, in 1990, under the leadership of Daniel Sullivan — who earned Tony a nod this year for his direction of “Rabbit Hole.”

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