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Borough theater groups earn our Kudos

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Best Musical: "A Chorus Line" at The Secret Theatre/Photo courtesy David Krochalis
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Best Supporting Actress in a Musical: LilyAnn Carlson in "Merrily We Roll Along" at APAC/Photo courtesy Michael Dekker
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Best Supporting Actor in a Musical: Billy Lowrimore in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at APAC/Photo courtesy Michael Dekker
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Best Supporting Actress in a Play: Angela Iannone in "The Importance of Being Earnest" at Titan Theatre Co./Photo courtesy Michael Dekker
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Best Supporting Actor in a Play: Kyle Kirkpatrick in "The Pillowman" at The Chain Theatre/Photo courtesy Matt Wells
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Best Actress in a Musical: Jennifer Knox in "A Chorus Line" at The Secret Theatre/Photo courtesy David Krochalis
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Best Actor in a Musical: Torrey Wigfield in "Hair" at The Secret Theatre/Photo courtesy Justin Chauncey Photography
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Best Actress in a Play: Leigh Anne West in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" at The Chain Theatre/Photo courtesy Matt Wells
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Best Actor in a Play: Kirk Gostkowski in "The Pillowman" at The Chain Theatre/Photo courtesy Matt Wells
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Best Play: "The Pillowman" at The Chain Theatre/Photo courtesy Matt Wells

For this third season of Queens Kudos awards, which recognizes the best in the borough’s theater scene, the TimesLedger decided to shake things up a bit.

Rather than simply focus on the professional productions, the paper opted to include the numerous shows staged each year by the borough’s large stable of community theater companies.

This past winter nominations were sought and readers voted on the first Community Theater Queens Kudos, which awarded prizes to the JC Players for “Seussical: The Musical” and to the Parkside Players’ production of “Vanities.”

So now it is time to turn our attention back to the Actors Equity-approved showcases and acknowledge those actors and actresses who delivered memorable performances in musicals and straight plays that ran in the borough between January 2015 and last month.

Here are the 2016 Off-Off-Broadway Queens Kudos winners:

Supporting Actress in a Musical: LilyAnn Carlson, “Merrily We Roll Along,” Astoria Performing Arts Center

One of Stephen Sondheim’s few missteps and quite possibly the biggest flop ever to open on Broadway, “Merrily We Roll Along” is the story of three friends and how they change over time — here told in a story that unfolds in reverse.

Carlson brings an impeccable sense of comic timing and a gorgeous singing voice to the part of Gussie Carnegie.

At one point Carlson utters a toss-away line that sums up Gussie perfectly.

“I never change,” she said. “I just change those around me.”

Funny, sexy, smart and vindictive, Carlson turns in one of the best performances of the past year.

Supporting Actor in a Musical: Billy Lowrimore, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Astoria Performing Arts Center

APAC’s Artistic Director Dev Bondarin certainly knows her way around a musical and how to wring top-notch performances from her casts.

As comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney—who is performing the community-service element of his parole at “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee—Lowrimore possesses one of the most magnificent singing voices heard on a Queens stage in quite some time.

And, while it would be easy to play Mitch as a cartoon thug, Lowrimore grounds this man in reality and mines the humor of his situation.

Supporting Actress in a Play: Angela Iannone, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Titan Theatre Co.

Oscar Wilde’s smartly written and extremely funny play tends to favor Lady Bracknell with some of the best lines.

Upon hearing that the lead character was orphaned as a child, she responds, “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessne­ss.”

Lady Bracknell could easily come off as dithering old fool and even a self-parody.

But with a canon of subtle glances and volumes of stinging prose, Iannone pulls off something wonderful. She creates a likeable and funny persona out of a character who is actually neither.

Supporting Actor in a Play: Kyle Kirkpatrick, “The Pillowman,” The Chain Theatre

In the darkly funny and equally disturbing play, “The Pillowman,” Kirkpatrick scores with an outstanding performance as the mentally challenged brother of the lead character.

Kirkpatrick beautifully captures the nuances of a person with brain damage, without slipping into a caricature.

He makes his character Michal, a real person with dreams and fears.

But what really convinced us of his skill was his next performance as part of The Chain’s Usual Rejects comedy show.

Kirkpatrick so totally disappeared into Michal that when we saw him again it was like watching an entirely different person.

Actress in a Musical: Jennifer Knox, “A Chorus Line,” The Secret Theatre

For the 40th anniversary of the landmark, Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, The Secret Theatre brought us more than just one singular sensation in its “A Chorus Line” earlier this year.

Although many of the talented cast members earned praise and Kudos nominations, this show belonged to Knox and her performance as Cassie. Throughout Knox does not make one false step as she runs the gamut of feelings that spring forth, from ex-lover to mother figure to desperate chorus girl.

But it is her six-minute solo performance in “The Music and the Mirror,” where she alternates gliding across the floor like a prima ballerina with the gyrating movements of a Vegas showgirl, that seals the deal.

“God, I’m a dancer. A dancer dances,” Knox sings.

As if anyone could stop her.

Actor in a Musical: Torrey Wigfield, “Hair,” The Secret Theatre

As Claude, the leader of the Tribe, the young people who preach peace and love, Wigfield turns in a mesmerizing performance.

He beautifully portrays Claude as a bohemian bon vivant, whose life revolves around sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Clause is self-assured, sexy and a natural leader.

But then Claude has a moral crisis — his anti-war stance is conflicting with a sense of duty when his draft notice arrives.

Wigfield makes this struggle real and captures the confusion and fear Claude experiences.

He also possesses a terrific singing voice that shines in his numbers “Manchester, England” and “The Flesh Failure (Let the Sunshine In)” at the finale.

Actress in a Play: Leigh Anne West, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” The Chain Theatre

The history of American literature’s greatest villains begins with Simon Legree in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” moves on to Mr. Hyde in “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and, of course, stops by Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Nurse Ratched looks prim and proper and even a little mousey, but it quickly becomes clear she is an angry, disturbed individual who thrives on the power she wields over her charges.

West owns this production.

Without once raising her voice or getting a hair out of place, she makes it quite clear nothing is going to happen if Nurse Ratched has not signed off on it.

West speaks volumes with an unsettling glance or quick turn of her head, which keeps everyone off kilter and herself unchallenged as the ultimate ruler of the ward.

Actor in a Play: Kirk Gostkowski, “The Pillowman,” The Chain Theatre

In Martin McDonagh’s disturbing yet funny play, “The Pillowman,” Gostkowski plays Katurian, a writer of gruesome tales in an unnamed police state trying to survive a run-in with detectives and attempting to keep his mentally-ill brother safe.

It is a lot to put on one actor, but Gostkowski delivered his best performance to date.

He balances the fear of not knowing what is going on with the anger his character feels at the police’s threat to burn the copies of his stories.

Gostkowski expertly manages an extraordinary wide ranges of emotions when it comes to his brother, from protector to accuser to savoir-of-sort.

Director of a Musical: Tom Rowan, “A Chorus Line,” The Secret Theatre

Rowan takes a 40-year-old show and makes it seem fresh and relevant.

He expertly mixes the bittersweet moments, like “What I Did For Love” and “At the Ballet,” with the light numbers, “Sing!” and “I Can Do That.”

As a director, Rowan also elicits phenomenal performances from his cast nearly across the board.

Director of a Play: Greg Cicchino, “The Pillowman,” The Chain Theatre

As one of the founding members of The Chain Theatre, Cicchino has expertly helmed numerous productions ranging from dramas to comedies.

But with “The Pillowman,” he accomplishes something unique.

This is a serious drama with gruesome aspects that arrives at its humor quite naturally.

Cicchino manages to keep the audience in a constant state of uncertainty with no idea of what is coming next.

Will it be another horrifying scene or a bit of absurdity that leaves you laughing and horrified at yourself for laughing?

Musical: “A Chorus Line,” The Secret Theatre

Quite possibly the best show to play in Queens during the last three years.

“A Chorus Line” is the reason people go to the theater. It tells a compelling story that everyone can relate to in some way and does so in a tuneful and visually appealing manner.

Director Tom Rowan captures the fear, frustration, angry and joy that comes from wanting to be a performer while remaining true to yourself.

Simply put, this show delivered singular sensations all night long.

Play: “The Pillowman,” The Chain Theatre

When a play attempts to walk the pencil-thin line between funny and grotesque way too often, it fails to accomplish either.

The Chain Theatre and its production of Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman” pulls off this tremendous feat with aplomb to spare.

The play, which revolves around a writer who pens short stories about children who suffer the most violent of demises, is disturbing, at times sickening and also extremely funny.

Google McDonagh and “The Little Jesus” —the title of one of the writer’s stories—to see for yourself. What is more horrifying? The story or your reaction?

It is a brilliant piece of theater delivered by four incredible actors that will stay with you long after the curtain falls.

Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at kzimmerman@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4541.

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