Probably next year when the Paramount Theatre in Aurora wins another bushel basket of awards, the headline can just say “Jeff Awards” instead of “Chicago Version of Tony Awards,” but without that reference point, a lot of us might not have understood why this achievement is such a big deal.
In its first year of Equity eligibility, the Paramount simply knocked it out of the park, landing five trophies at the 47th Annual Jeff Awards, including awards for Best Musical and Best Director of a Musical for “Les Miserables.” The awards were presented Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.
The other three wins weren’t small potatoes, either: Best Scenic Design for “Les Mis” and Best Lighting Design and Best Projections/Video Design for “The Who’s Tommy.”
The city of Aurora was appropriately effusive in its congratulations.
“A big congrats goes to all the amazing artists in the Chicago Theatre scene for much deserved recognition at the 47th Annual Jeff Awards last night,” said the eblast and website post. “We’d like to raise our hats to the Jeff Award recipients, nominees and every single individual that has helped make our Broadway Series what it is today … award-winning!”
The historic Aurora theater had been overlooked in years past, which makes the 2015 victories even more sweet and impressive.
“The dominance of Paramount and its ‘Les Miserables,’ which won three awards, was a reminder of how much the Paramount has changed the landscape of Chicago’s musical houses,” said Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune in his recap of the Jeff Awards. “Initially, the Jeff Committee refused to judge shows at the Paramount, declaring it outside its geographic boundaries, but it capitulated this season, once the quality of shows made such a decision untenable.”
The Paramount’s achievement was equaled only by fellow Equity newbie The Hypocrites, which earned six awards for “All Our Tragic,” an epic 12-hour adaptation of the 32 surviving Greek tragedies, which was honored with awards for Production-Play for a midsize theatre, New Adaptation and Direction for Sean Graney, Costume Design for Alison Siple, Fight Choreography for Ryan Bourque and the prestigious Ensemble award, sponsored by Actors’ Equity Association.
Other Big Winners at the Jeff Awards
Principal acting honors went to Kate Fry as Rosemary Muldoon in “Outside Mullingar” at Northlight Theatre and Jerod Haynes as Bigger in “Native Son” at Court Theatre, produced with American Blues Theater. Awards for principal acting in musicals went to Heidi Kettenring as Anna in “The King and I” at Marriott Theatre and Nicholas Dantes as Young Billy in “Billy Elliot, the Musical” at Drury Lane.
The Solo Performance honor went to Ronald Keaton as “Churchill”, produced by SoloChicago Theatre and Greenhouse Theater Center. Supporting Actress awards were presented to Kate Buddeke as Tanya in “Airline Highway” at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and to Michelle Aravena as Anita in “West Side Story” at Drury Lane Productions. Supporting Actor in a musical went to Matthew Crowle as Hysterium in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Porchlight Music Theatre.
Special Awards were presented to husband and wife actors Paula Scrofano and John Reeger in recognition of their career contributions to Chicago theatre over the past five decades. The couple serve as an inspirational example of successful careers, family and lives in Chicago Theatre. The tribute to Paula and John included a photo montage from their performances over the years. The highlight was a live performance by Paula and John, “Why Do I Keep Going to the Theatre?” from the musical revue in which they earned their Equity cards in 1974, “What’s a Nice Country Like You Doing in a State Like This?”
Chicago continues to be a nurturing center for New Works, and top awards for New Work-Play went to the late PJ Paparelli and Joshua Jaeger for their their provocative examination of Chicago public housing in “The Project(s)” at American Theater Company and to Mat Smart for “The Royal Society of Antarctica” at The Gift Theatre, the tale of a young woman at a remote Antarctica facility searching for answers to her mother’s disappearance. New Work-Musical was awarded to Paul Gordon for “Sense and Sensibility”, a moving chamber piece based on the Jane Austen novel, produced by Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
The capacity audience at the Drury Lane on Monday enjoyed live performances from all nominated musicals and revues and video performances from nominated plays. The 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 Awards Committee, served as producer for the evening. Performers Cheryl Lynn Bruce and E. Faye Butler emceed the event.
SOURCES: City of Aurora, Paramount Theatre, Jeff Awards press releases
Paramount Jeff Award Winners
- LES MISERABLES Best Scenic Design – Large: Kevin Depinet & Jeffrey D. Kmiec
- THE WHO’S TOMMY Best Lighting Design – Large: Greg Hofmann
- THE WHO’S TOMMY Best Projections/Video Design: Mike Tutaj
- LES MISERABLES Best Director – Musical: Paramount Artistic Director Jim Corti
- LES MISERABLES Best Musical – Large
About the Jeff Awards
SOURCE: Jeff Awards press release
The Jeff Awards has been honoring outstanding theatre artists annually since it was established in 1968. With up to 55 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 Committee evaluates over 250 theatrical productions and holds two awards ceremonies. Originally chartered to recognize only Equity productions, the Jeff Awards Non-Equity Wing was established in 1973 to celebrate outstanding achievement in non-union theatre. The next Non-Equity awards ceremony will be held at Park West on June 6, 2016.
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