Like theater? See who took home prestigious Craig Noel Awards

Annual event, presented by San Diego Theatre Critics Circle, celebrates local theater productions


Theaters large and small from around San Diego County shared in the honors Monday night as the 18th annual Craig Noel Awards celebrated the best in local theater for 2019.

The awards — presented by the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and named in honor of the Old Globe’s late founding director (a key force in San Diego theater) — were spread out among 10 companies.

Several artists also received special awards for work across multiple theaters, underlining the close sense of community that characterizes the local stage scene.

The Old Globe took home the most awards, with five; the Balboa Park theater’s honors included outstanding new musical for the potentially Broadway-bound “Almost Famous,” plus outstanding direction of a musical for Globe artistic chief Barry Edelstein’s work on the U.S. premiere of “Life After.”

La Jolla Playhouse’s three awards included outstanding dramatic production for the area premiere of University of California San Diego grad Lauren Yee’s “Cambodian Rock Band”; the same show won for direction of a play (Chay Yew).

Also winning three Noel Awards were Moonlight Stage Productions, including outstanding resident musical for “West Side Story”; Diversionary Theatre, with new-play honors for Miranda Lee Hall’s “The Hour of Great Mercy”; Cygnet Theatre, whose honors included outstanding ensemble for “Angels In America: Millennium Approaches” and its followup, “Perestroika”; and Backyard Renaissance Theatre, which earned the Don Braunagel Award for Outstanding Work by a Small Theater Company, named for a late critic and circle member.

San Diego Repertory Theatre, North Coast Repertory Theatre, New Village Arts Theatre and Lamb’s Players Theatre also took home awards.

For the first time, the Critics Circle presented performance awards in non-gender-specific categories, becoming one of the first such programs in the country to switch to a gender-neutral format. (Full disclosure: I’m a voting member of the group.)

The winners were Tamara McMillian (“Intimate Apparel” at New Village Arts) and Andrew Oswald (“The Hour of Great Mercy,” Diversionary) for lead performance in a play; Jessica John (“An Experiment with an Air Pump,” Backyard Renaissance) and Daisuke Tsuji (“Cambodian Rock Band”), featured performance in a play; Sophie Hearn (“Life After”) and Jeremy Wilson (Diversionary’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”), lead performance in a musical; and Courtney Arango (“West Side Story”) and Charles Evans Jr. (Lamb’s “Million Dollar Quartet”), featured performance in a musical.

Cygnet associate artistic director Rob Lutfy was named director of the year for a quartet of productions at the Old Town theater; Cashae Monya and Michael Cusimano were named actors of the year for 2019 performances at multiple companies; and Ryun Yu won the outstanding solo performance award for his turn in San Diego Rep’s “Hold these Truths.”

Dialect and accent coach Vanessa Dinning won the first-ever Noel Award for outstanding specialty artist, recognizing her work on eight productions at six San Diego theaters. And 12-year-old Catalina Zelles was named outstanding young artist for her performance in North Coast Rep’s “Gabriel.”

(The links here all lead to the Union-Tribune’s reviews of the honored shows.)

The 29 awards were presented before an audience of nearly 500 guests at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation in the Valencia Park neighborhood of San Diego.

For full results, go to