The not-for-profit Clive Barnes Foundation, named after the late theatre and dance critic who died in 2008 at the age of 81, announced the finalists on Nov. 9. Barnes' work appeared in the New York Times, the New York Post and many other publications.
Annaleigh Ashford of Rent, Jennifer Damiano of Broadway's Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark and Josh Grisetti of Off-Broadway's Enter Laughing were the other finalists in the 2011 Barnes Award theatre division.
MJ (Michael) Rodriguez, 20, is a graduate of Arts High School. He started pursuing his career at the age of 11 when he joined the Summer Youth Performance Workshop at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). He is an eight-year veteran of NJPAC, and also participated in its program New Jersey Youth Theater (NJYT). He has performed in shows such as Dreamgirls, The Pajama Game, Once on This Island, and has performed for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Camp Broadway and for the Boston Celtics Gala. He attends Berklee College of Music, and is the 2009 Star-Ledger Scholarship recipient, and the 2009 Young Arts first level scholarship recipient.
Ashford and Rodriguez play Maureen and Angel, respectively, in the current Off-Broadway revival of Rent; Grisetti got love-letter reviews for his work in the musical comedy Enter Laughing at the York Theatre Company's home and later at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, NY; and Damiano is the Tony Award nominee of Next to Normal who created the role of Mary Jane Watson in the musical Spider-Man.
Barnes' widow, Valerie Taylor Barnes, oversees the awards. This is the second year of the honor. Nina Arianda, a 2010 Barnes awardee and star of Venus in Fur, presented the award. In addition to the finalists in theatre named above, the four dance finalists were Isabella Boylston of American Ballet Theatre (who won the award); Barrington Hinds of Stephen Petronio Company; Natalie Mackessy of Stephen Petronio Company; and Michael Novak of Paul Taylor Dance Company.
"[Clive] was very keen on young would-be performers and dancers," Valerie Taylor Barnes previously told Playbill.com. "I decided that's what we should do…honor and continue helping young people."
The awards address fall-to-spring seasons.