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Getting a Red Carpet Treatment

Manhattan Beach resident Kirk Kelley-Kahn rejuvenated the African-American theater group, the Cambridge Players, last year with the comedy/ mystery play, “Reunion in Bartersville,” and it paid off Tuesday at the 19th NAACP Theater Awards, taking home the Producer of the Year award.

Manhattan Beach Mayor Pro Tem Mitch Ward, who is also running for the 53rd Assembly District seat, was part of the ensemble cast that was nominated for acting but did not win in that category.

“I’m elated and overjoyed that the most prestigious award that the NAACP gives out each year to people of color in the theatrical arena in California is associated with a piece of my work,” Ward said. “I’m just extremely proud for Kirk and Doug (Fager, Kelley-Kahn’s co-producer) for receiving the nod last night.”

Besides the NAACP honor, the Ovation Awards are the only major awards honoring theater in Los Angeles. Winning with a fledgling production adds credibility and a respect factor.

“That’s what people were freaking out about,” Kelly-Kahn said. “For us to be nominated and for it to be a first-time-out deal, it surprised a lot of people. They were like, ‘Wow, you bring back this legendary Hollywood theater group and not only are you nominated but you win as best producer.’ It’s almost unheard of.”

Kelley-Kahn is the grandson of Oscar-nominated actress Juanita Moore (“Imitation of Life”) who was a founding member of the original Cambridge Players. It took some effort, but the Cambridge Players - Next Generation had its premiere last year with “Reunion in Bartersville,” a play about a 50th high school reunion that takes a mysterious turn. After a hit run in Hollywood, the play went to North Carolina for the Black Theater Festival.

Ward isn’t a stranger to the red carpet, having starred in a number of theater productions in New York, but he’s still uncomfortable under the spotlight.

“I’m still not comfortable doing those red carpet things,” said Ward, who can be seen in a national Home Depot commercial soon as well as in print as a spokesman for Dell Computers. “I try to sidestep those things like I did last night. I try to ignore the camera and lights. Me and one of my cast members, we kind of sidestepped the real bright lights of the red carpet and chose to go in and enjoy the festivities and the great food that they had in the Directors Guild (where the event took place) lobby.”

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