Danni Smith, who originally hails from Logansport, received the principal actress award Monday at the 41st annual Non-Equity Jeff Awards ceremony recognizing excellence in non-union Chicago theater.
The honor came for her role as a sick and love-obsessed invalid in Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre's "Passion," the Stephen Sondheim dark musical about a love triangle set at a military base in the 19th century, which garnered three other awards, including Best Production - Musical, Supporting Actress Colette Todd and for Music Director Kory Danielson.
Smith attended the ceremony at Park West in Chicago with her husband, along with her parents Dan and Karen Smith, the latter thanked in her acceptance speech for encouraging her to play a Munchkin in a production of "The Wizard of Oz" at Logansport Junior Civic Theater Company.
"The Mother," offered as a free play and detailing oppression and class warfare, won top honors for Oracle Productions, earning five awards for the non-profit public access theater. "The Mother" won for Production Play, Ensemble, Principal Actress in a Play for Katherine Keberlein, Original Music in a Play for Jonathan Guillen and Nicholas Tonozzi and New Adaptation for Steve Gooch.
Monday's awards show recognized 127 nominees in 24 categories from 66 Jeff Recommended productions, and honored 25 recipients from 14 theatres with awards celebrating excellence in all aspects of Chicago Non-Equity theatre. Director and choreographer Brenda Didier directed Monday's ceremony, and Jeff Non-Equity Chair, John D. Glover, produced the event.
Diane Hires, the chair of the 55-member Jeff Committee (of which I am a voting member), welcomed the audience and presented this year's Special Jeff Award to Griffin Theatre Company for its dedication to provocative and transformational theater for Chicago audiences as well as its touring theater that engages and enlightens youth throughout the United States. Griffin Artistic Director Bill Massolia accepted the award on behalf of an entourage of Griffin company members, board members and friends.
Lili-Anne Brown, artistic director of Bailiwick Chicago, received the honor for Director of a Musical with her insightful production of Lynn Ahrens' and Steven Flaherty's "Dessa Rose." Jason Gerace took home the Director of a Play award for the adaptation of "Great Expectations" at Strawdog Theatre Company. The choreography honor went to Linda Fortunato for her work in "Kiss of the Spider Woman" at BoHo Theatre.
Other individual acting awards in principal roles went to David Schlumpf for his portrayal of Sidney Falcone in "Sweet Smell of Success" at Kokandy Productions, and to Patrick Gannon for multiple roles in "The Tennessee Williams Project" produced by The Hypocrites. Supporting actor awards went to Norm Woodel as Bonaparte in Griffin Theatre Company's "Golden Boy," Tommy Bullington as Smee in Quest Theatre Ensemble's "Return to Neverland," and Nora Lise Ulrey as Mary Tilford in "The Children’s Hour" produced by Pride Films and Plays.
Technical honors went to Andrei Onegin's scenic design and to David Woolley's fight choreography, both for "The Playboy of the Western World" at Raven Theatre; Diane D. Fairchild's lighting design for "A Tale of Two Cities" and Stephen Ptacek's sound design for "The Killer Angels," both at Lifeline Theatre; and Izumi Inaba's costume design for "The Life and Death of Madam Barker" at Red Tape Theatre.
Two New Work awards were bestowed: one to Phillip Dawkins for "Miss Marx: or the involuntary side effect of living" produced by Strawdog Theatre Company, and the other to Manny Tamayo for "Incident on Run #1217" produced by The Factory Theater.