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The 15th annual Denver Drama Critics Circle Awards 

The festive ceremony for the Denver Drama Critics Circle Awards got off to a rousing start Monday night with an inspiring performance by PHAMALy, the Physically Handicapped Amateur Musical Actors League, performing a medley from their multiply-nominated production of Side Show. The near capacity crowd of actors, technicians, directors and designers at the Arvada Center for the Arts leapt to their feet in awe and admiration of their peers on the stage, and the tone was set for a memorable evening that transcended mere celebratory self-indulgence.

There were no run away winners taking home wagon loads of awards, but multiple winners were The Avenue Theater, who have three plays from their Best Season for a Company still on stage, including Best Ensemble Picaso at the Lapin Agile playing in repertory with Dearly Departed (slated for a Springs production in April), both playing through April 2, and Murder Most Fowl at the Encore! Dinner Theatre in Colorado Springs; The Arvada Center, propelled by multiple awards for Best Musical West Side Story; Boulder's Dinner Theatre, whose Fiddler on the Roof, featuring Best Actor in a Musical Wayne Kennedy, can be seen through the end of March; and Curious Theater Company, which won three awards for their Best Play production of How I Learned to Drive.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of two Lifetime Achievement Awards. Dale Stewart was recognized for more than 40 years as a comedic actor on nearly every Denver stage that has ever raised a curtain. A tearful Stewart, greeted by a standing ovation, told the crowd, "This is the most awesome experience of my life." Stewart had the house in stitches as he displayed his improvisational wit, even ridiculing his own poor health by announcing his new one-man show, "What's Wrong with Dale Now?"

Another Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Al Brooks and Maxine Munt, the husband and wife founders of The Changing Scene Theater, the pinnacle of "established avant-garde," which since 1968 has produced 387 world premiere productions from aspiring playwrights, earning them national recognition and fostering a sense of family throughout the Front Range theater community -- a show of hands revealed nearly two-thirds of the audience had been involved in a Changing Scene production at some point during their theatrical careers.

The Lifetime Achievement Awards were announced earlier this month, and less than a week before the ceremony, Maxine Munt passed away after a prolonged illness. The enduring and heartfelt ovation for Brooks when he took the stage to accept the award was the bittersweet high point of the evening, honoring a couple whose back-alley loft theater was rarely full, but whose dedication and commitment to experimental and unknown stage work epitomizes the achievement one strives for from a life in the theater.Complete list of award winners.

  • An emotionally uplifting evening was had by all.

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