In 2014, the United Solo Academy has nominated seven performers for the Special Award: Hannah Cabell in Grounded, Billy Crystal in 700 Sundays, Jim Dale in Just Jim Dale, Ruben Santiago-Hudson in How I Learned What I Learned, Kevin Spacey in Clarence Darrow, John Douglas Thompson in Satchmo at the Waldorf, and Michael Urie in Buyer and Cellar.
The 2014 United Solo Special Award went to Billy Crystal at the gala held on November 23, 2014 at Theatre Row on 42nd Street in New York City.
Billy Crystal accepted this recognition for his outstanding achievements in the art of solo performance, and said in his special message to the United Solo Artists: “It made me a better actor, it made my discipline stronger, it made every night more of a challenge,” he added, “That’s the thrill of working solo.” Billy Crystal joins previous recipients of this award: Anna Deavere Smith (2010), Patti LuPone (2011), John Leguizamo (2012), and Fiona Shaw (2013).
As an Air Force fighter pilot returning home from Iraq in George Brant’s Grounded, Hannah Cabell captured the adrenaline and ambivalence of a woman caught between a desire for the thrill of combat and the empathy that comes from an unexpected pregnancy. Ms. Cabell’s portrayal gave voice to a seldom heard and nuanced perspective, depicting the emotional ambiguities of a woman disembarked into domesticity as abruptly as she was catapulted into the thick of war.
His 700 Sundays is an act of warmth and generosity, a beloved actor giving his audience a vulnerable and personal part of himself – the story of losing a parent. In this heartfelt tribute to the Sundays he spent with his father before his untimely death, Mr. Crystal shared family stories of joy and sorrow, opening his heart while exercising his legendary virtuosic ability to entertain, uplifted by a genuine exploration of love and loss.
Just Jim Dale is an evening of songs, jokes, and industry anecdotes from a consummate showman who has made an indelible contribution to the American stage. Jim Dale told of his years touring as a vaudevillian in the English music hall, his rise to pop stardom on the UK charts, and his invention of hundreds of character voices for the Harry Potter audiobooks. At nearly eighty, the versatile Mr. Dale remains light-footed and quick-witted in his devotion to make people smile.
In How I Learned What I Learned, Ruben Santiago-Hudson revealed how August Wilson’s childhood and adolescence gave rise to lifelong convictions and inspired his American century cycle of plays. Mr. Santiago-Hudson’s engaged and moving portrayal brilliantly depicted the awakening of a young writer’s social consciousness. It also gave us invaluable insight into this towering American playwright’s enduring legacy.
His bravura performance in David W. Rintels’s Clarence Darrow was a master class in an actor’s immersive transformation into a character, from his stooped posture to the tremor in his fingertips. Darrow is best remembered for his defense of a schoolteacher who taught evolution in the Scopes monkey trial, but Mr. Spacey paid equally thrilling tribute to Darrow’s legacy as a humanitarian and rights activist who fought against child labor and the death penalty.
JOHN DOUGLAS THOMPSON
Impersonating an iconic performer is a daunting challenge. But John Douglas Thompson’s performance in Satchmo at the Waldorf by Terry Teachout, transcended imitation. He embodied Louis Armstrong’s charm and charisma, but also showed us the fatigued and wounded Armstrong we couldn’t see in vintage recordings. Furthermore, he introduced us to Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser, and trumpeter Miles Davis. The three portraits coalesced into a complex rumination on divisions at a pivotal time in American history.
Celebrity excess and narcissism are always prime targets for satire, and Michael Urie treated them with irresistible panache and wit in Buyer and Cellar, a play by Jonathan Tolins about a struggling actor who is hired to manage a megastar diva’s estate, a palace of shameless consumption. At the core of this provocative farce, full of gossip about sightings and encounters, is a genuine story about our difficult relationship to wealth and fame, and Mr. Urie tackled this theme with great humor and heart.