Biddeford's City Theater, pictured in July. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Biddeford’s City Theater, pictured in July. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — It’s not quite a Tony, but Biddeford’s City Theater is the recipient of a BroadwayWorld Maine award for Best Ensemble.

The entertainment website, which judges shows across the country and also categorizes awards by state, honored City Theater with the award for its 2016 production of “Next to Normal.”

“It’s very exciting because, for me, the most important part of a show is the ensemble,” said Producer and Director Linda Sturdivant. “It’s not about the individual performances — it’s about everybody coming together, not just the actors but the technical crew.”

The cast and crew of City Theater’s production of “Next to Normal,” pictured here, were awarded 2016 Best Ensemble by entertainment website BroadwayWorld. SUBMITTED PHOTO/Courtesy of Linda Sturdivant

The award is significant, Sturdivant said, because the community theater was up against some of Maine’s most renowned companies, including the Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick, which ultimately swept the competition with 11 awards.

“Getting somebody from BroadwayWorld to even come and see a show is a big deal,” Sturdivant said. “If somebody talks about the ensemble and how tight it is, that’s the best compliment you can give me. That’s what we work at: telling the story though ensemble.”

Sturdivant also credited the play itself for allowing the cast and crew to come together in seamless fashion.

The Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, written by Brian Yorkey with music by Tom Kitt, tells the story of a mother who struggles with bipolar disorder. As her mental illness worsens, the show focuses on the effects it has on her family, while at the same time addressing other issues including suicide, loss and drug abuse.

“It deals with a topic that a lot of people don’t talk about, and for me it seems like, if you aren’t someone, you know someone who has mental illness,” Sturdivant said. “What I love about the show is it puts it up on the stage and celebrates the lives of the people who deal with this, that it’s something people deal with every day and you may not know.”

Sturdivant said the cast and crew were able to work so well because, as she found out, her suspicions were correct.

“Everybody in the cast had the same experience as far as either having to deal with mental illness or knowing someone who was dealing with mental illness,” she said. “It’s a topic that I think had reached a point where we need to talk about it.”

The award also speaks to the talent of the actors in and around Biddeford.

“I don’t want anyone to think because it’s community theater that we don’t get phenomenal talent, because we do,” Sturdivant said. “We’re starting to get a reputation for doing quality theater, so with that in mind we pull not just local (actors) but we’re starting to pull (actors) from outside the area.”

As an example, Sturdivant said, the theater’s next show, “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” which runs from March 10-26, draws actors from New Hampshire and Massachusetts in addition to the Maine communities of Oxford, Windham, Portland and Buxton.

But Sturdivant stressed the award is not just about the people onstage. A great ensemble involves a collective effort of designers, builders and technical workers in addition to great actors.

“I can’t tell you enough about the people who build the sets and do the sound and make sure the props are right,” Sturdivant said. “At 9 a.m. on Saturdays, I’ve got eight, 10, 12 people there helping to build sets.

“These people are there weekend after weekend giving their time to do something. They’re not just nailing boards together,” she added. “The cast is phenomenal, but I don’t ever want to forget the technical staff that gives them a beautiful space.”

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected] 

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