BEMIDJI -- The excitement and anticipation in the air Sunday night at Suzy and Hondo’s Dance Studio was palpable as regional theater groups came together to honor this year’s winners of the Oxcars.
Conceived by Cate Belleveau and modeled after a similar event in the Twin Cities, the winners are chosen by a special selection committee and each year the categories are adjusted to more accurately reflect those who deserved to be recognized for their work from one November to the next.
Robert Thomas, who honed his acting talents while a student at Bemidji State University and Bemidji Community Theater, returned to his hometown to be co-anchor of the event. Thomas and Belleveau played off each other in numerous skits during the program. And the ever ebullient Kevin Cease was there to keep the program lively; yes, he even showed up in a blue body suit pretending to be Babe the Blue Ox. Speaking of Babe the Blue Ox, she is the model for the Oxcar, with her blue body and gold hooves and horns and is fabricated by sculptor Al Belleveau.
It takes a lot of planning and pre-planning to get the event staged; models and pictures of the Rat Pack sat prominently on the stage with the giant gold Oxcar. Kristine Cannon was instrumental in getting local merchants to donate appetizers and libations as a member of the event committee.
“I am thrilled that so many people I have worked with on-stage and behind the scene are getting awards tonight,” Cannon said. “The Importance of Being Earnest” won a few awards, and we are hoping that Jesse Whiting gets here from Duluth to get his award. I am delighted to see Dwayne Johnson in a suit!”
Johnson, who was awarded an Oxcar for Bemidji Community Theater’s “Oliver” and “Peter Pan”, started off the parade of winners for the evening. Johnson, a man of few words, summed up what theater means to him and his helpers.
“Once the process (of building a set) begins, we blend our ideas together in the hopes of creating a magical scene pleasing to the audience,” Johnson said. “For me, the process is further complicated by the fact that my wife (Mary Knox Johnson) can’t draw. So now it becomes my job to translate her ideas into a 3-D model.”
Apparently, Knox-Johnson has no problem in getting her designs across to the stitchers, for she won an Oxcar for “Oliver” and “Peter Pan” costumes, and to top it off, she also won an Oxcar for directing a youth musical for “Peter Pan.”
Cate Belleveau won for director of a musical, “Evita,” which also won light design by Chance Anderson and best actor in a musical Mary Anderson for her leading role as Evita Peron and Eric Carlson won for his portrayal of antagonist Che Guevara.
“When the stage manager, Sara Breeze, gave us a good review, we knew we were right on” Carlson said. “She told us a cautionary tale about forgetting to turn off her mic when she went to the bathroom. It happened to her and the audience could hear her singing in the john.”
Although their first theatrical foray, Suzy and Hondo Langout easily walked off with the Oxcar for the overall choreography for “Evita,” a production of Women’s Theater Collective.
Jesse Whiting did make it in time to receive his award as director of a comedy and to see two of his actors play the muffin scene from “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Amanda Mix, winner of best actress in a comedy, and Sasha Almendinger, winner of best supporting actress, charmed the audience with their gender reversal roles. Whiting’s play was supported by Bemidji Community Theater, which underwrote expenses and provided production advice to this first-time director.
Chuck Deeter won for best actor in a comedy in “25th Bee” by Women’s Theater Collective. Paul Dove won an Oxcar for best musical director for Northern Lights Theater Co.’s “Carousel” and Park Rapids resident Jason Krabbenhoft won for best supporting actor.
Teri Harrington won for original playwright for her musical comedy, “Hanson’s Grill” -- Minnesota Nice on Ice” and some former members of the cast belted out a song from the show.
Finally in the show category, Jan Nash of the Minnesota Folklore Theater spoke about her portrayal of Judy Garland in “Judy Why Can’t I.” She brought the audience back to reality when she spoke about her connection to Garland because Nash is also a recovering alcoholic.
It was no surprise to the audience to greet and congratulate Berit Dybing as up-and-coming youth for her work as “Peter Pan” and the artful dodger in “Oliver.” Dybing rushed over from the show choir fundraiser at Bemidji High School.
Patty Lester was gracious in accepting “Schlepper of the Year” as someone who is always ready to pitch in and work hard.
The evening ended with Lifetime Achievement Award recipients Ernie and Patt Rall thanking the community for welcoming them to Bemidji.
And, as promised, the committee members cleared the floor and then Suzy and Hondo proceeded to give tango lessons to anyone who wanted to start to learn this exotic dance from Argentina.