Steppenwolf Theatre Company's "Good People" won the award for Production-Play in a large tier theater at Monday's 45th Annual Equity Jeff Awards held at Drury Lane Oakbrook, with Mariann Mayberry netting the Principal Actress for her role in the David Lindsey-Abaire play.
William Brown received Best Director of a play for Writers Theatre's production of the French farce "The Liar," adapted by David Ives and Chicago Shakespeare Theater's "Sunday in the Park with George" won top awards with three statues: Production-Musical in the large theatre category, Director Gary Griffin and Projections Designer Mike Tutaj. The Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical is inspired by the painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat, which hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.
In the midsize theatre tier, TimeLine Theatre Company won the award for Production-Play with "33 Variations," a play by Moises Kaufman inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven's eponymous work. The midsize Production-Musical award went to Porchlight Music Theatre's "A Class Act," a musical retrospective of composer-lyricist Edward Kleban, best known as lyricist for "A Chorus Line." Principal Actor in a Musical was awarded to Bill Larkin for his moving portrayal of Kleban. The Lyric Opera of Chicago ventured onto the comedy scene with The Second City in "The Second City Guide to the Opera," which earned awards in the Production-Revue category and for Director Billy Bungeroth. David M. Lutken received the Actor in a Revue statue for Northlight Theatre's "Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie."
A Special Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to actor Dale Benson, in recognition of his career spanning over half a century of continuous work in Chicagoland theatre. The award presentation by Jeff Awards Chair Diane Hires included a musical montage featuring "Make 'Em Laugh" performed by a chorale of actors for Benson, their beloved colleague.
Chicago continues to be the hub for premiering new works. Top awards for New Work-Play went to both Luis Alfaro's "Mojada," a re-imagination of Euripides' "Medea" in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, produced by Victory Gardens Theater; and to Rajiv Joseph's "The Lake Effect," a drama of an Indian American family in crisis, produced by Silk Road Rising. David Rice won New Adaptation-Play honors for his musical version of "Cymbeline" in Civil War Appalachia, produced by First Folio Theatre. Rice's collaboration with composer Michael Keefe also received the statue for Original Music in a Play.
Television and screen actor Michael Shannon returned to his theatrical home to win Actor in a Principal Role-Play award as the conniving Carter in Sam Shepard's "Simpatico" at A Red Orchid Theatre. Christine Sherrill received Actress in a Principal Role-Musical as faded silent screen star Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard" at Drury Lane Oakbrook. Alexis J. Rogers took the top honor for Solo Performance for her captivating performance as jazz legend Billie Holiday in Porchlight Music Theatre's "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill." Honors for supporting roles in a play were awarded to Raymond Fox in TimeLine Theatre Company's "Blood and Gifts" and Elizabeth Ledo in "Tartuffe" at Court Theatre.
Awards for supporting roles in a musical went to André De Shields in "The Jungle Book" produced by Goodman Theatre and Huntington Theatre Company, and Bethany Thomas in "South Pacific" at Marriott Theatre. Newcomer Callie Johnson received an award for Cameo Performance in Porchlight Music Theatre's "Pal Joey."
The prestigious Ensemble Award went to the Q Brothers' hip-hop "Othello: The Remix" from Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Richard Jordan Productions Ltd. The Q Brothers creative interpretations have inspired new appreciation of the Bard.
I'm told the near capacity audience enjoyed live performances from all nominated musicals and revues and video performances from nominated plays. This Equity Awards ceremony was directed by Michael Weber, with music direction by Linda Madonia and stage management by Colleen Tovar. Merril Prager, Equity Wing Chair of the Jeff Committee, served as producer for the evening. Music Director Roberta Duchak and Artistic Director BJ Jones emceed the event. Following the ceremony, guests enjoyed a lavish Drury Lane buffet and dancing.
The Jeff Awards has been honoring outstanding theater artists annually since it was established in 1968. With 52 members representing a wide variety of backgrounds in theatre, the Jeff Awards Committee is committed to celebrating the vitality of Chicago area theatre by recognizing excellence through its recommendations, awards, and honors. The Jeff Awards fosters the artistic growth of area theatres and theatre artists and promotes educational opportunities, audience appreciation, and civic pride in the achievements of the theatre community.
Each year The Jeff Awards evaluates over 250 theatrical productions and holds two awards ceremonies. Originally chartered to recognize only Equity productions, the Jeff Awards established the Non-Equity Wing in 1973 to celebrate outstanding achievement in non-union theatre. The next Non-Equity awards ceremony will be held on June 2, 2014, at Park West.