Actor of the year Cashae Monya
Actory of the year Cashae Monya. Courtesy San Diego Theatre Critics Circle

The San Diego Theatre Critics Circle announced Tuesday the winners of its 2019 Craig Noel Awards, which recognize the achievements of professional theaters in San Diego County.

This year’s 29 awards were presented before an audience of nearly 500 guests at the annual ceremony Monday night at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation in southeast San Diego.

La Jolla Playhouse’s “Cambodian Rock Band” won the year’s Outstanding Dramatic Production award, while The Old Globe’s “Almost Famous” won the award for Outstanding New Musical. Moonlight Stage Productions‘ “West Side Story” is the year’s Outstanding Resident Musical. And playwright Miranda Rose Hall’s “The Hour of Great Mercy” was named Outstanding New Play in its world premiere at Diversionary Theatre.

Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company was singled out for the annual Don Braunagel Award for Outstanding Achievement by a Small Theater Company for its body of work in 2019.

The rarely-presented Director of the Year honor went to Rob Lutfy, who helmed four strong productions in 2019 at Cygnet Theatre, where he serves as associate artistic director.

The 2019 Actors of the Year are Cashae Monya and Michael Cusimano, who both performed impressively in four or more productions last year.

The year’s Outstanding Ensemble award went to the cast of Cygnet Theatre’s “Angels in America,” Parts 1 & 2. The cast included Connor Sullivan, Wil Bethmann, Alex Bodine, Rosina Reynolds, James Newcomb, Rachael VanWormer, Kevane La’Marr Coleman and Debra Wanger. The year’s Outstanding Solo Performance award went to Ryun Yu, who starred in “Hold these Truths” at San Diego Repertory Theatre.

The first-ever Outstanding Specialty Artist award went to dialect and accent coach Vanessa Dinning who worked on eight productions at six San Diego theaters in 2019. And the year’s Outstanding Young Artist is 12-year-old Catalina Zelles.

This was the first year the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle presented non-gender-specific awards in all of its performance categories, a cause celebrated by Jeremy Wilson, a non-binary artist who won the Lead Performance in a Musical award for the title role in Diversionary’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” At the podium, Wilson said it was an honor to win in the mixed-gender category because it made them feel “seen” and validated by the community at large.

The 2019 awardees were chosen by a nine-member body of professional critics who write for San Diego newspapers, magazines and online publications — including Times of San Diego’s Pat Launer.

The San Diego Theatre Critics Circle is an independent, nonprofit organization of print and online theater critics dedicated to open and honest dialogue about theater in San Diego County and to honoring artistic excellence. The awards are named in honor of Craig Noel, longtime artistic director at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre.