Last Sunday, the annual Ostrander Award ceremony packed the Orpheum theater with hundreds of local actors, directors and stage technicians all hoping to win the Memphis equivalent of Broadway's Tony. As always, the coveted best musical prize was announced last.
The winner wasn't much of a surprise. The musical “The Color Purple,” produced by Playhouse on the Square, was practically everyone’s first choice to win. The show combines the emotional wallop of Alice Walker's novel with uplifting gospel music. And in case there was any doubt about its success as a local production, it also cleaned up in the categories of best director, best actress, best supporting actress, best choreographer, and on and on.
While “The Color Purple” made a winning impression on the Ostrander judges – all of whom are white people -- it wasn't the only black theatrical production on their radar. Others included Hattiloo Theatre's "Hurt Village," "Sarafina!" and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," along with Circuit Playhouse's "The Mountaintop." About 30 percent of the nominees in individual categories were performers in shows with black themes.
As director Tony Horne observed before the ceremony: “I think this is the largest number of African-American nominees that I can ever remember since I’ve been coming to the Ostranders. So it’s exciting.”
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