The Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre are Phillidelphia’s version of the Tony’s. A very elaborate awards ceremony is held at the historic Walnut Street Theatre each year to honor excellence in theatre. Hilberry alum Cheryl Williams was nominated for playwright David Hare’s The Breath of Life, which she performed in last winter at Philly’s Lantern Theatre Co., and which had turned out to be THE most highly nominated non-musical of the entire season. The Breath of Life received 8 nominations in 7 categories, including those for Outstanding Production of a Play, Outstanding Ensemble, and Best Actress nominations for both Cheryl and her co-star, local favorite Ceal Phelan, who, along with her husband, has been a fixture of this theatre community for 30 years.
Although her show was mostly shut-out by Becky Shaw, a big Wilma Theatre production, it did win for best original musical score, and Cheryl snagged the top honor of Best Actress in a play, which was made especially rewarding since she was one of only two local performers who walked off with a major acting award last night. All the rest, both male and female, musical and non-musical, went to NY-based actors who had been hired in for their respective shows. The other local winner was Peter DeLaurier, who won for his role in People Light & Theatre’s production of King Lear, and who also just happens to be the husband of Cheryl’s Breath of Life co-star, Ceal.
She had a lot of people rootin’ for her, though (including numerous current and former students, who’d come just to support her), and the house erupted with screams and applause when her name was announced, and her win, accompanied by a photo of her from the show appeared on the 20’x20′ projection screen on-stage above the musicians. She gave a lovely acceptance speech (which was totally extempore, as she’d never actually thought she had a chance of winning), which she capped by thanking the Lantern “for having the courage to do a play about two ‘woman of a certain age’ who simply spend an evening sitting around drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and talking about life, men and politics.”, a line which got a HUGE laugh and round of applause from the audience!
Cheryl is now getting ready to run off to Temple University to work privately with her current students. As I’m sure you might imagine, just as her acting skills have grown over the years, so have her skills as a teacher and mentor, and even though she’s still just an adjunct member of TU’s theatre faculty, she still regularly continues to put in just as much time, if not more, as any of their full time teachers.
Congratulations Cheryl! And a special thanks to Eric Kramer for his contributions to this post.
Read more about the evening’s award ceremony here.