BWW Exclusive: Benjamin Grier Receives 13th Street Rep's Matthew Nardozzi Award

Benjamin Grier--currently co-starring in, and serving as dance captain for Chip Deffaa's musical comedy "Mad About the Boy" at the 13th Street Repertory Theater--has won the theater's "Matthew Nardozzi Award," which recognizes professionalism, a strong work ethic, and reliability, as well as talent. Nardozzi flew up from Florida to present Grier with the honor. ASCAP Award-winner Deffaa, the theater's most widely produced playwright, emceed the award ceremony, the first of several award ceremonies to be held at the theater this year.

In introducing Nardozzi, who presented the plaque to Grier, Deffaa noted: "Matthew Nardozzi became a member of Actors Equity at age eight, SAG at age nine, and AFTRA at age 10. He's appeared in Broadway shows, films, TV shows, and music videos. He's won Hollywood's 'Young Artist Award,' which has been presented for more than 30 years to the nation's best younger actors. I've had the pleasure of working with him repeatedly; he was in my musical 'The Seven Little Foys'; he may be heard on the cast album of my show 'Theater Boys'; and he co-starred in the first production in the region of my musical 'Irving Berlin's America.' He's a good role model for actors because he's never late for rehearsals or performances, gets off-book quickly, always has a great attitude, and always comes through beautifully. When I invited him to co-star in 'Irving Berlin's America,' he arrived at the first rehearsal virtually off-book on the script and songs; I knew I could count on him 100%. Grier, who's really been a rock at the 13th Street Rep--arriving early for rehearsals, with enthusiasm, and assisting in rehearsing numbers when needed, upholds that tradition."

Nardozzi offered Grier--an AMDA grad from Deedham, Massachusetts--his compliments on Grier's spirited work in 'Mad About the Boy' (where Grier sings such numbers as "I'm Crazy for My Baby in a Uniform" and "My Cozy Little Corner at the Ritz") and encouragement in his career. He presented Grier with a plaque, as well as a copy of the "Theater Boys" cast album, on which Nardozzi is featured.

Grier expressed his deep appreciation, vowing to strive to maintain the reputation for reliability, talent,. and commitment that the "Matthew Nardozzi Award" symbolized. His castmates and audience members applauded and congratulated him. (His understudy, Ken Adams, offered the only mock complaint: "Maybe if Benjamin wasn't so reliable, the understudies in this show--like Tony Medlyn, Ben Dreier and myself--would finally get a chance to go on. But Benjamin never misses.")

Annual awards ceremonies, to honor and encourage up-and-coming performers, have long been part of the 13th Street Theater's tradition. Two more awards will be presented shortly. Edith O'Hara, 98, the legendary founder/artistic director of the venerable theater, is proud of the role the theater has played in nurturing young talent, noting that such well-known artists as Chazz Palminteri, Christopher Meloni, Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, Jamie DeRoy, and Amy Stiller all appeared on the stage of the theater, early in their careers. For more than 40 years, according to O'Hara, the theater's mission has been to serve as an incubator for playwrights and actors-to-watch.

Deffaa, who has revitalized the theater in recent years with hit productions of such shows of his as "Irving Berlin's America," "One Night with Fanny Brice," "Theater Boys," "The Irving Berlin Ragtime Revue," and "Mad About the Boy"--all of which have gotten publishing and/or recording deals--added that he liked the fact that this particular award uniquely honors actors for their strong work ethic, not just talent. "We need more actors who know--the way Nardozzi knows, the way Grier knows--that a strong work ethic counts for as much as talent, if you want to succeed in this business. I'd use Matt Nardozzi or Benjamin Grier in shows of mine any time, if they were available."

After the ceremony, Nardozzi flew back to Florida; Grier and his castmates rehearsed for their forthcoming appearance on cable TV's "Barry Z Show"--the first of two programs Barry Z plans to devote to "Mad About the Boy."



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