Although no one refused a nomination, nor protested any of the judges' choices, the Village Voice's 41st Annual OBIE Awards, celebrating outstanding achievement in Off Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theatre on May 20 in the Manhattan Center, possessed a certain chaotic charm of its own.
Many of the ceremony's award presenters, which included Terrence McNally, Nicky Silver, Dael Orlandersmith, Malcolm Gets, Daphne Rubin Vega and Robert Sean Leonard spent time on stage improvising as the script was suddenly changed, due to no shows and latecomers. The piano player from Rent, which received three OBIEs, was still in the studio working on the cast album, while other presenters such as Marisa Tomei, currently in off-Broadway's Dark Rapture, came late.
A sensational musical number "Seasons of Love" from Rent was eventually performed, although setting up and taking down the microphones for 'he ensemble took as long as the song. A dance number from Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk featuring OBIE award winner Savion Glover, brought in noise, funk, and much applause.
Pervading the ceremony was a thick feeling of community, the heart of New York theatre. Some actors were dressed up, others accepted awards in shorts; it mattered not and seemed as though everyone knew everyone else and felt at home, part of the Off-Broadway family. Mercedes Ruehl urged everyone to become more politically active regarding arts funding. Robert Sean Leonard, who presented an award for Distinguished Performance to Mark Nelson for his work in Picasso at the Lapin Agile, shared how he had worked with this actor 12 years ago and admired him so much ever since. When Nelson accepted the award, he said, "12 years ago Robert was just 16, and had I known he would be presenting me with this OBIE, I would have lent him my I.D."
When theatre legend Uta Hagen spoke in acceptance of her $1,000 grant for Sustained Achievement, she proclaimed "I love the theatre" and when an audience member shouted "Hear, hear" in response, she acknowledged, to much laughter "Don't we all." Then, in praise of the wonderful work and community formed off Broadway, said, "It's very hard to do that [to be of service to the theatre] on Broadway. I started on Broadway in 1938, and worked my way, slowly, Off-Broadway."