For the third time in its much longer history, the Tournament of Plays, or Toppers, was held April 27 at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden to recognize the best in community theater from across U.S. Army Europe.
This year 19 plays, musicals and Family productions from 13 community theaters were up for awards following a six-week judging period. Over 3,600 military community members contributed almost 200,000 volunteer hours to theater programs in Europe.
“Entertainment programming provides a sense of community and a home away from home,” said Michael Formica, Installation Management Command Europe director, at the event.
“The shows,” he added, “as well as the workshops and classes offered each year, greatly enhance morale while teaching valuable solo skills, serving as models of teamwork, honing leadership abilities and promoting overall well-being.”
USAREUR Commanding General Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli echoed Formica’s words, saying he quickly realized while watching his first Toppers that evening why this event is so special.
“This is my hometown; this is our hometown,” he said, referring to Army Europe. “Thank you for making it that way. You make community, you make bonds and you make a life together.”
The awards for best shows were split between three garrisons, with USAG Benelux’s SHAPE Performing Arts Centre winning Best Play for “The Good Person of Szechwan;” USAG Italy’s Soldiers’ Theater winning Best Musical for “Disaster, the Musical;” and USAG Stuttgart’s Stuttgart Theatre Center taking the award for Best Family Show, for their performance of “Madagascar Jr.”
Dane Winters, IMCOM Europe entertainment director and one of the evening’s masters of ceremonies, said it is important for the Europe military theater community to gather each year and recognize each other at Toppers.
“It gives them a chance for (community theater members) to get together and celebrate,” he said. “And it’s our chance, as IMCOM, to say thank you for what they’re doing … and to recognize some really, really great theater out there.”
Each year, the IMCOM Europe Entertainment staff works hard to gather celebrity video presenters to contribute to the event, and this time was no different.
“I want to thank all of you for serving our nation in Europe and around the world,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tony-award winning actor, playwright and composer, and creator of the Broadway hits “In the Heights,” which had its Europe military theater community debut this year, and “Hamilton.” “Your sacrifice and service is invaluable. We are truly grateful.”
Winters encouraged those interested in the theater to reach out to their local group and get involved.
“It is such a great way to get involved in a group activity, to meet new people,” he said. “They become Family when they do a show. There’s a place for everyone; it involves all creativity … we teach a lot of life skills in what we do.”
Winners from Wiesbaden’s Amelia Earhart Playhouse
Best Stage Manager for a Play: Lisa Young, “To Kill A Mockingbird”
Best Technical Director for a Musical: Rod Castro, “Avenue Q”
Best Instrumentalist: Elizabeth Lockridge (Winds), “Avenue Q”
Best Orchestra or Musical Accompaniment: “Avenue Q”
Best Director of a Musical: Nate Records, “Avenue Q”
Best Male Military Performance in a Musical: Sgt. 1st Class Brad Latham as Trekkie Monster, “Avenue Q”
Best Actor in a Musical: David Peralta as Princeton and Rod, “Avenue Q”
Best Debut in a Musical: Jo Brauer as Christmas Eve, “Avenue Q”
A full list of winners and nominees, as well as video from the show, can be found at https://global.armymwr.com/ArmyEuropeEntertainment/2019-toppers.