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Pacino accepts honor for Benedict at Norton Awards

Al Pacino speaks at the 27th annual Elliot Norton Awards ceremony last night at Sanders Theatre. Al Pacino speaks at the 27th annual Elliot Norton Awards ceremony last night at Sanders Theatre. (Bill Brett for The Boston Globe)
By Megan Tench
Globe Staff / May 12, 2009
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Al Pacino charmed the crowd at the 27th annual Elliot Norton Awards ceremony last night at Sanders Theatre. Pacino swept into town - or what he called "my adopted city, Boston" - to accept a special posthumous award on behalf of the late Paul Benedict, an actor best known as Harry Bentley on TV's "The Jeffersons" who also had a long and accomplished stage career.

Benedict, who starred on Broadway in Eugene O'Neill's "Hughie" alongside Pacino in 1996 and in "The Music Man" in 2000, was honored for his "indelible presence" on the Boston theater scene, which ranged from 1960s performances with Pacino in Theatre Company of Boston productions to Harold Pinter's "No Man's Land" with the American Repertory Theater in 2007.

Pacino told jokes and reminisced about his early theater days in Boston with Benedict. "When I first met him he had this way of looking at me with wisdom and a sense of the future. I'd never been looked at like that before," Pacino said. "I am honored to be here to accept this award," he added, "and talk about my friend Paul."

The awards, presented by the Boston Theater Critics Association, included a prize for sustained excellence for New Repertory Theatre's former producing artistic director, Rick Lombardo, who is now artistic director at the San Jose Repertory Theatre.

SpeakEasy Stage Company took four Norton Awards, including the prizes for outstanding ensemble for "The Seafarer"; outstanding actress at a small/midsize company for Marianna Bassham in "Blackbird"; outstanding director at a midsize company for Scott Edmiston, who helmed "The History Boys" and "The Light in the Piazza" with SpeakEasy and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" with the Lyric Stage Company; and outstanding design at a small/midsize company for Janie E. Howland, who worked on "The History Boys" as well as New Rep's "Eurydice."

The Huntington Theatre Company also garnered four awards, including those for outstanding actress at a large company for Kate Burton in "The Corn Is Green"; outstanding director at a large company for Nicholas Martin, who helmed "Corn" and "She Loves Me"; outstanding visiting production for "Wishful Drinking"; and outstanding design at a large company for Francis O'Connor, who created both set and costumes for "Two Men of Florence."

There were some surprises among the awards. Orfeo Group, in its first season, picked up the prize for outstanding production by a fringe company for "Look Back in Anger." North Shore Music Theatre, which is struggling for survival, took the outstanding musical production award for "Show Boat."

The award for outstanding director at a small/fringe company went to Company One's Summer L. Williams for her haunting work on "Voyeurs de Venus."

Other awards in the large-company category went to the American Repertory Theater for outstanding production ("Endgame") and to Fred Sullivan Jr. as outstanding actor (Free Shakespeare's "As You Like It" and Trinity Repertory Company's "Blithe Spirit.")

The Lyric Stage took the prize for outstanding production at a midsize company for its comedy "Speech & Debate," while the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre garnered the small-company outstanding production award for "Awake and Sing."

Will Lyman was honored as outstanding actor at a small/midsize company for his work in New Rep's "Exits and Entrances" and in Boston Playwrights' Theatre's "The Oil Thief," whose author, Joyce Van Dyke, received the prize for outstanding new script.

The award for outstanding solo performance went to Elizabeth Aspenlieder in "Bad Dates," presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre in association with Shakespeare & Company.

The StageSource Theatre Hero Award went to the night's emcee, Joyce Kulhawik, former arts and entertainment reporter for WBZ-TV, for her work championing theater and the arts. A special citation went to the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, which houses theatrical papers and memorabilia.

Globe correspondent Danny Deza contributed.