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'Take Me Out,' 'Avenue Q' Land Lortel Awards

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"Take Me Out," Richard Greenberg's play about America and baseball, and the Robert Lopez-Jeff Marx-Jeff Whitty musical "Avenue Q" were big winners at the 2003 Lucille Lortel Awards, which recognize outstanding Off-Broadway achievement. Distributed on Mon., May 5, for the first time in the awards' 18-year history the winners were not announced in advance, thus lending the ceremony at the Lucille Lortel Theatre an air of anticipation and excitement.

Greenberg's play, of course, began as one of the chief highlights of the Public Theater's season, transferring to Broadway this spring on the strength of rapturous reviews. In addition to being selected as Outstanding Play, the production captured four Lortels in all: Joe Mantello was also cited for direction, Daniel Sunjata for lead actor, and Denis O'Hare for featured actor.

A joint production of the Vineyard Theatre and The New Group, "Avenue Q," which freely mixes puppet and human characters, is itself getting ready for a commercial transfer to Broadway, slated for July 31. Besides taking the honor for best musical, Brett Jarvis took a Lortel for sound design. In the choreography category, however, Devanand Janki won for his high-energy dance moves for the musical "Zanna, Don't!"

Tovah Feldshuh was honored with a Lortel for lead actress for her portrayal of Golda Meir in the Manhattan Ensemble Theater production of William Gibson's solo play "Golda's Balcony"; Jan Maxwell took the featured actress nod for Israel Horovitz's "My Old Lady," which closed earlier in the season.

"Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme," Frank McGuinness' tribute to Ireland's 36th Ulster Division during World War I, had received the highest number of Lortel nominations this year—six—but the Lincoln Center Theater production took just two, for Alexander Dodge's scenic design and Donald Holder's lighting. The costume design award went to Michael Bottari and Ronald Case for Drama Dept.'s production of Charles Busch's "Shanghai Moon."

The Lortel for outstanding play revival went to the Signature Theatre Company's mounting of "Fifth of July," part of its season-long tribute to Lanford Wilson.

Each year, a number of special awards are distributed. "The Exonerated," a drama by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen derived from first-person interviews with onetime death row inmates now cleared of their crimes, was named the season's Unique Theatrical Experience. The Vineyard Theatre, already basking in the success of "Avenue Q," was celebrated for its Outstanding Body of Work. Veteran actress Marian Seldes received the Edith Oliver Award for Sustained Excellence, and legendary composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim picked up the Lifetime Achievement Award.

This year's nominating committee included David Cote of Time Out New York; Mark Dickerman of New York University, Tisch School of the Arts; Susan Einhorn and Barbara Wolkoff of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers; designer Beverly Emmons; George Forbes, Donald Saddler, and Anna Strasberg of the Lucille Lortel Foundation; Charles Isherwood of Variety; Walt Kiskaddon and Sheila Matthews of Actors' Equity; Gerald Rabkin of Rutgers University; Mark Rossier of the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York; and Marc Routh, Tom Smedes, and David Stone of the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers.

The League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers created the awards to honor Lucille Lortel's tireless devotion to Off-Broadway. Awarded annually since 1986, the Lortel Awards are produced by the league in association with the Lucille Lortel Foundation, with additional support provided by Theatre Development Fund.

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