Lilla Fleischmann as Annie. Picture: Supplied

The musical Annie came out tops at the annual Naledi Theatre Awards, garnering four awards, including Best Production of a Musical.

Three other highly acclaimed productions, Scorched, Suddenly the Storm and the musical, TAU, won three awards each at a glittering event held at the Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City, last night .

The Naledi Theatre Awards, which is in its 13th year, applauds theatre excellence and is the biggest event on the Gauteng theatre calendar.

South African theatre in all its facets was celebrated on the night with entertainment, heartfelt speeches and surprises.

In the field of musical theatre an Afrikaans production, Altyd in my Drome, walked off with two awards, including Best Director for its creator, Neels Claasen.

Two international musicals, Shrek the Musical and the classic Singin’ in the Rain, were also honoured with two awards each.

I See You, a hard-hitting South African play about police corruption and brutality, which was produced by the Market Theatre in collaboration with the Royal Court Theatre in London, won favour with the judges with two awards.

This included the Best Lead Performance in a Play (Male), which went to Desmond Dube.

Porselein a bold, abrasive, in-your-face Afrikaans production that pulled no punches and hammered home its message in no uncertain terms, was acknowledged when Tiaan Slabbert was given an award for Best Supporting Actor.

Pay Back the Curry, an acerbic look at South African society, written by Mike van Graan and performed by comedian Daniel Richards, earned a Best Newcomer Award for the versatile Richards.

Veteran playwright Paul Slabolepszy received an award for Best New South African script for Suddenly the Storm, and Ameera Patel (Best Supporting Actress) and

Ilse Klink (Best Lead Performance in a Play: Female) won awards for their contribution to Scorched.

Another Afrikaans play, AS, won recognition for the Best Cutting-Edge Production, while musical dare devil Bryan Schimmel, who has received no fewer than nine nominations in his career, won the Best Musical Director award for his work on Annie.

The judges also took note of the groundbreaking African musical, TAU, which won in the categories Best Ensemble and Best Original Choreography for Nhlanhla Mahlangu.

Greg King was honoured for his work (with Shanti Naidoo) on Shrek the Musical in Best Costume Design and again for Best Set Design for Suddenly the Storm.

For the first time, two nominees in the Best Lighting Design category shared an award. They were Hlomohang Mothetho (TAU) and Wesley France (Suddenly the Storm).

Four special awards were given on the night.

The Lesedi Spirit of Courage Award went to Erik Holm, who is confined to a wheelchair after breaking his neck in a diving accident.

The Executive Director’s Award went to POPArt for their innovative and exciting work in Maboneng.

The Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Haccius Mokokapasi, who has been a stage manager for more than 50 years at various theatres.

The World Impact Award went to Johnny Clegg, who is about to embark on his farewell world tour after 40 years in the industry.

An exciting line-up of presenters and entertainers were assembled on the night, including nominee Lilla Fleishmann, the star of Annie, performing Tomorrow, Earl Gregory from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat singing Close Every Door to Me and award-winning Daniel Richards delivering a sketch from comedy Pay Back the Curry.

The Kings of Harmony performed a moving tribute to the departed, and the cast of Sarafina executed an emotive and rousing finale.

Naledi Executive Director Dawn Lindberg said: “We made a strong statement in support of LGBTQ rights with a special arrangement of John Lennon’s Imagine, led by Timothy Moloi and 10 of our very best voices in harmony.”

The hosts were Tumi Morake and Alan Committee and the ceremony also featured celebrity presenters from the theatre industry, including award-winning thespian John Kani, director Jade Bowers, actors Neels Clasen, Zak Hendrikz and Vusi Kunene, and TV stars Jennifer Nkosi and Kgomotso Christopher.

Lindberg said the standard of excellence grew higher each year.

“The panel sees over 100 productions each year, with over 300 nominees on the list of excellence.

“Judging takes place over a weekend, with everyone on the panel allowed space to debate and discuss each of the 27 categories. The final votes are by secret ballot.

She added: “The process of seeing, analysing and assessing all professional productions staged in Gauteng each year is a full-time job which is not always acknowledged.

“Lack of sufficient financial support from the government and commercial sponsors is a constant battle, but Naledi is proud to be internationally recognised as the benchmark of excellence in South African live theatre.”