I first declared Denise Lee Dallas Voice’s “actor of the year” in 2003, and in the intervening years, eight more names have been added to that list: Mark Shum, Chamblee Ferguson, Nye Cooper, James Crawford, Kevin Moore, Elias Taylorson, Regan Adair and last year, Lulu Ward. In between, dozens of other names have appeared on the short-list, including Cedric Neal, Gary Floyd, Patty Breckenridge and many more.

It’s one of the things I take most seriously each year, because so many actors around town work tirelessly for little recompense or recognition. They put up with negative reviews (sometimes from me) and long hours. It’s nice to get the privilege of singling them out.

There are always those who impress you time and again. We expect Jaston Williams to give dazzling performances year after year, though what amazed me in 2012 was he did it in something other than a Tuna show — his one-man Camping with Gasoline. Cindee Mayfield, Ashley Wood and Terry Vandivort have been excellent on many occasions, so their brilliant teaming for Contemporary Theatre of Dallas’ Night of the Iguana was inevitable. Alex Hernandez carried a lot of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity on his shoulders for DTC, and the duo Jenny Ledel and Cameron Cobb held together Kitchen Dog’s eerie Turn of the Screw. Another twosome, Van Quattro and David Piper on Theatre 3’s Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, also wowed me — as did the rest of that cast.

The cast of another Letts show, WaterTower’s August: Osage County, did excellent work, and Second Thought Theatre’s cast for The Bomb-itty of Errors wore me out with their cross-dressing and rapping (in a good way). Sally Nystuen-Vahle’s hilarious physical comedy (including projectile vomiting) in God of Carnage was the comic delight of the summer, followed closely by Coy Covington (once again in drag for a Charles Busch show) and Lee Jamison, Kevin Moore and Mary-Margaret Pyeatt in The Divine Sister.

Jac Alder, a Dallas legend, doesn’t act enough — he was so good in Freud’s Last Session, he made you wish he did it more. (He co-starred there again with Cameron Cobb, who also stood out in T3’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.) Another behind-the-scenes guy who succeeds at acting is Terry Martin, good as a gay man in Next Fall. Lyric’s Oklahoma was a dandy staging of the classic, made memorable by Kyle Cotton and Bryant Martin as Jed and Curly. Angel Velasco made a touching Angel in Theatre Arlington’s Rent. The big, boisterous cast of On the Eve, led by Gregory Lush, Seth Magill and (again) Ledel wowed, too.

One of the season’s best shows was also one of the best acted: Tony Martin, Brad Jackson and Peter DiCesare in Uptown’s The Producers. They were all terrific, though not more so than the show’s leading man, B.J. Cleveland. Cleveland has been a staple in North Texas since he was a kid, and everyone knew as soon as Uptown announced The Producers that he would be an inspired Bialystock … but perhaps none could have predicted he’d be as good as he was.

He’s been a gem for decades, so it’s appropriate that on this 10th anniversary of this award, he gave one of his best performances. That he continues to surprise us in this and other shows (including Uptown’s Broadway Our Way, pictured above) proves not just his longevity but also his resourcefulness. And it’s how he is handily — and finally — our actor of the year.

— A.W.J.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 28, 2012.