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Best Actress Aleks Malejs

PHOTO BY Jen Lucius Photography


Best Actor


Ben Michael Moran, Angels in America

Jimmy Janowski, The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

Jimmy Janowski



This season’s top two male performances—hard chosen from a field bursting with talent—were so different that they couldn’t be compared in any way that made us feel comfortable declaring one as superior. Janowski, best known for his summer camp drag roles at Buffalo United Artists, gave audiences a rare glimpse of his range in a one-man journey through thirteen characters from a gruff detective to a shy teenaged girl. Each fully realized portrayal was a brush stroke in the full portrait of Leonard Pelkey, the title character absent from the dramatic canvas—one that Janowski nonetheless painted expertly.


On the other hand, Ben Michael Moran’s portrayal of the iconic Prior Walter in Angels in America, Part I: Millennium Approaches required a different display of craft, namely mining one character’s journey for all its depth, humanity, and truth, then baring it on stage in a unique portrayal that didn’t borrow from the many that went before, but instead imbued the role with new authenticity as powerful as any predecessors’.


Like we said—too hard to choose; what we know for sure is how lucky we are to have both these actors in Buffalo.


Best Actress


Aleks Malejs, Sive

Bethany Burrows, After the Fall

Aleks Malejs



There really isn’t a role that Aleks Malejs doesn’t do well, but in Sive, she so fully embodied Mena, a desperate woman driven to desperate acts, that the audience sat tensely, never knowing when her anger—which often bubbled just below the surface—would boil over. She was a character we might love to hate, if only she weren’t so mesmerizing.


Bethany Burrows, whom we haven’t seen nearly enough on Buffalo stages (thankfully, that changes next season), shone in After the Fall, a lesser-seen Arthur Miller play that’s autobiographical enough for us to know that Burrows is channeling Marilyn Monroe. With incredible nuance, she takes us through Marilyn’s undoing under Arthur’s thumb, simultaneously giving us all of her charms and all of her insecurities, without ever going over the top.


Best Arts Administrator

Daniel Hart

Is the symphony orchestra an endangered species? Not in Buffalo or in many US cities where philharmonics have learned how to make it work for their communities. We know that having the superb JoAnn Falletta, who is celebrating her twentieth year as music director, hasn’t hurt the BPO’s success with local, national, and international audiences. We also know that it doesn’t hurt to have a comfortable endowment, strong educational partnerships, ambitious collaborations, and vigorous outreach. Credit for this must go in large part to executive director Dan Hart, whose enthusiasm and savvy management has helped keep the BPO in the black as it expands its involvement with its WNY constituency.


Best Character Performance

Jake Hayes, Little Shop of Horrors

In Jake Hayes’ full season of performances—Once in My Lifetime, Little Shop of Horrors, Barcelo on the Rocks, Ragtime, and Hamlet—it might seem odd to single out the one where we never saw his face. And yet when Audrey II roared to life and song in O’Connell and Company’s Little Shop of Horrors, that plant was so commanding that the first question on everyone’s lips was “Who is that?!” It’s a question being asked less and less as Hayes becomes increasingly popular on the Buffalo theater scene. No matter the role, his focused attention to detail, seemingly easy stage presence, and voice stand out. Look for him as the lead in Road Less Traveled Productions’ Superior Donuts at Shea’s 710 this fall.



Best Columnist

Jeff Miers, Buffalo News

PHOTO BY kc kratt


In recent “Soundcheck” commentaries, Miers has covered the politics of booking Ted Nugent, Allentown Art Festival busking, the importance of baseball, and how to make big music festivals sustainable. And that’s only one month’s worth. Once a week, Miers provides about 600 thoughtful, well-informed, and (often) provocative words on topics that need to be discussed. Cultural observation of this caliber is growing all too rare.


Best Curator

Aaron Ott



Thanks to the Albright-Knox’s public art initiative, more than twenty-five murals, sculptures, and installations have popped up around the city, taking art outside of the gallery and into diverse spaces across our community—from downtown to the East Side and even into the subway. For all of these projects, the man behind the curtain is Aaron Ott, the museum’s first-ever public art curator and one of the few public art curators at an American art museum. Ott arrived in 2014, and within a few months, the once-ubiquitous “You are beautiful” billboards and stickers by Matthew Hoffman were appearing all over town. In leading the ambitious public-private initiative, Ott has helped bring art to many who may never enter the museum and enriched our vibrant community.



Best Facebooker

Frits Abell

Though we admit to feeling just a bit of dread when we see that signature phrase, “Let’s discuss,” it’s a fact that the Facebook groups Abell co-administrates—including Design Block, Preservation-Ready Sites, and Buffalo Building Porn—do host important discussions about the future of Buffalo and its built environment. These groups are where architects (real and armchair), developers, activists, and others get together to critique projects, share information, and plan events. If you’re wondering about what’s happening with a building site or want to protest a possible demolition, you’ll likely get the facts and support you need from one of these groups.


Best Friend of the Arts

Marty Boratin



Whether you know him from his decades booking acts at Mohawk Place and other venues throughout the area, his tireless volunteer work with the Buffalo Infringement Festival, the fabled summer house concerts he and late wife Susan Tanner brought to the lawn of their Hamburg property (a new season is currently in progress), or even his long-ago days as every customer’s best friend at New World Records, if you are a Western New Yorker who is passionate about music, you have surely crossed paths with the pony-tailed, Hawaiian-shirt-sporting, professional archeologist Marty Boratin. And you’re not alone: touring musicians from around the world have long looked to Boratin for a home-cooked gourmet meal and a place to crash, even when they’re not playing our area. He’s always been one of a kind, and we’ve always been lucky to have him.


Best Instagrammer

Sirius Black

With 18.4k followers, this sleek Savannah-breed’s posts are an inspiration to housebound tabbies everywhere. Sirius is always a show-off—whether he’s wading through streams in nature preserves, climbing trees, or lounging in his catio. He’s even been known to take the odd modeling gig now and then. The famous feline resides in Allentown between adventures.



Best Local Music Act

Drea d’Nur

photo by sufana wajed


If you’ve caught one of Buffalo-based singer/songwriter/pianist/activist Drea d’Nur’s performances, you know just how unique and far-ranging her talent is. Her current ever-evolving tribute to Nina Simone first took shape a few years ago at an epic sold-out Kleinhans show featuring a full jazz band, actors, dancers, film, and live painting during which—no exaggeration—every single number was greeted with a lengthy standing ovation. Subsequent scaled-down iterations at the Albright-Knox, the Burchfield Penney, PAUSA, MusicalFare, and NYC’s Schomburg Center have only intensified the acclaim. Meanwhile, D’Nur has been developing a vastly different project: Healing Songs in Beautiful Spaces, a participatory sound-and-movement workshop.



Best Local Politician

Brian Higgins

Higgins has evolved from a solid, if unspectacular, constituent service sort of congressman into something far more valuable: a politician with a regional vision. This is something rare and worthy of praise, particularly in Western New York, where it can sometimes seem as though petty agendas are prioritized over the serious, day-to-day concerns that affect our lives. Higgins also deserves credit for taking leadership roles on environmental issues, particularly climate change policy.


Best Local Sports Team

UB Men’s and Women’s Basketball

When it comes to sports, all Western New Yorkers really want is to be included in the conversation. Although we once had a solid hoops tradition, it’s been a while since Bob Lanier prowled the local hardwood. This year, both the Lady Bulls and the men’s teams were favorite sleeper picks in the NCAA Tournament among the touts and cognoscenti, and in office pools everywhere. There’s a special thrill when you can put a local team in your office bracket. Thanks for that, UB!


Best Local Scandal

Chris Collins indictment

This one is like the solution to a game of Clue: Chris Collins, on the White House Lawn, insider trading, with his cellphone. What makes it so great is that we don’t have to say “Allegedly.” There it is, on video. Representative Collins’s lawyers don’t dispute the evidence of our eyes: the defense is that the investigation violated the Speech and Debate clause of the Constitution. Maybe so, or maybe the Congressman from Spaulding Lake is just saying, “Don’t you know who I am?” Yeah, Chris. We know. (Runner-up: Chris Collins re-elected.)


Best Newly Elected Official

Pat Burke

Last spring, former county legislator Pat Burke ran in a special election for New York State Assembly—and lost. Undeterred, he was back on the ballot in November, showing again the independent, never-give-up attitude he became known for as he fought for children, the environment, and local businesses in the Erie County Legislature. That time, he won and is now in Albany representing South Buffalo, Lackawanna, West Seneca, and Orchard Park in the Assembly. In the first half of 2019, he introduced and passed legislation supporting child victims, and continued his environmental advocacy as chair of the subcommittee that oversees the Department of Environmental Conservation—and he’s just getting started.



Best Power Couple

Tony Chase and Javier Bustillos

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Chase and Bustillos are Buffalo’s most recognizable theater royalty. Chase cofounded Buffalo’s Artie theater awards as well as WBFO’s Theater Talk, which he cohosts every Friday morning. Bustillos founded the Buffalo United Artists theater company, now in its third decade, and writes an equally long-running theater news column, “Stagefright.” The affable pair can be seen regularly at openings and LGBTQ events; they are (mostly inadvertently) role models for what it means to be out, active, and successful.


Best Reporter


Charlie Specht

In addition to providing vital information, journalism, at its core, should hold the powerful accountable. During the last year, groundbreaking reporting by WKBW investigative journalist Charlie Specht—as well as photojournalist Jeff Wick—did just that, uncovering decades of abuse by dozens of Catholic priests within the Buffalo Diocese. Honored recently with a regional Edward R. Murrow Award, the series has resulted in numerous calls for Bishop Richard Malone to resign, and launched investigations by the state attorney general and FBI. More than that, in an age of “fake news,” Specht underscored, once again, the critical role a free press plays in our society.



Best Reporter


Caitlin Dewey Rainwater

photo by stephen gabris


Before returning to the Queen City last year, Caitlin Dewey Rainwater spent six years at the Washington Post. Now an enterprise reporter for the Buffalo News, Rainwater compiles vast amounts of data into easy-to-read stories that illuminate key trends. Among other long-reads, she has cataloged Erie County’s extensive digital deserts just weeks before County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced his ErieNet initiative, interviewed twenty-plus investors and economists about breakout startup ACV Auctions, and showed how Google literally wiped the Fruit Belt neighborhood from the map. We’re glad this expat in back in town.

buffalonews.com, caitlindewey.com


Best Social Justice Group

Volunteer Lawyers Project

This group and its founder Robert Elardo do more good for people in WNY than most people can imagine, because they do their work for people who mostly don’t get noticed. For over thirty years, director Robert M. Elardo and the staff and volunteers at VLP have counseled the overlooked by providing free civil legal services to persons facing eviction, deportation, or bankruptcy, among other crises. It is important work that might otherwise fall between the cracks in the system. VLP exists to see that people who otherwise would have no access to justice and fair treatment in the legal system have a place where they can turn, which, in turn, means that the system can operate fairly and justly.


Best Sports Good News

The Buffalo Beauts’ success

PHoto by mike hetzel


Only one local team has made the championships in each of its past four seasons—and it certainly isn’t the Bills or Sabres. It’s the Buffalo Beauts, which advanced to the Isobel Cup finals in all four seasons the National Women’s Hockey League has been in existence and brought the cup home to Buffalo in 2017. The team has set apparel sales records for the league and quietly developed a dedicated local following for its family-friendly home games at HarborCenter. Off the ice, the team is facing some challenges, as Pegula Sports and Entertainment relinquished ownership in May amid a players’ strike. But on the ice, the Beauts is a gem of Buffalo sports—a team that excites fans, wins games, and may someday earn a spot in the pantheon of local sports history.



Best Tweeter


This pseudonymous provocateur’s Twitter handle may salute his Monroe County origins, but the focus of his feed is all the things about his adopted home that make him (and the rest of us) laugh, cry, scream, or maybe just sigh—with a generous helping of state and national politics on the side. A typical day’s topics might include long-lost bike trails, current art exhibitions, local history, and live tweeting from a city planning meeting, all rendered with care and a genuine commitment to sparking intelligent, informed discussion and debate.


Keep up with the movers and shakers in WNY — subscribe to Buffalo Spree today!


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