For the second time in as many years, Paramount Theatre took top musical honors during Monday's 48th annual Joseph Jefferson Award ceremony at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.
The Jeff Awards recognize excellence in Chicago-area equity theater.
The Aurora theater received three Jeff Awards, including one for best musical (large theater) for its brilliantly re-imagined production of "West Side Story."
"That show is so hard to do," said Paramount artistic director Tim Corti accepting the best musical award newly renamed for the late Dr. Harlan Haimes. "You take the responsibility of holding a mirror up to life and it's not pretty many times."
"Love is our strength," he said. "That's what we wanted to make the play about. When that love isn't there, look what happens."
"This is what happens when a community invests in the arts," said Paramount president and CEO Tim Rater, who thanked Aurora's residents and leaders for their support. "It's amazing what theater can do for a community."
"West Side Story" also earned awards for supporting actress Mary Antonini and for William Carlos Angulo's hard-hitting, pugilistic choreography.
"The fact that we did an expressionist 'West Side Story' and you wrapped your arms around it like you did is the reason I love Chicago theater," said Angulo. "Thank you Jim (Corti). He hired me when I had never choreographed a musical before in my life. Not only that, he and Tim (Rater) got behind me and set me up with everything I needed ... I am so unbelievably thankful."
Nathaniel Stampley was named best actor in a musical for his portrayal of Don Quixote in Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire's unflinching revival of "Man of La Mancha." The production also earned Ryan T. Nelson the award for music direction.
Jeffrey D. Kmiec received the large theater set design award for Drury Lane Theatre's "Deathtrap."
Kmiec thanked his colleagues and paid tribute to fellow nominee Kevin Depinet, saying, "I stand on the shoulders of giants like him."
Jeff Committee members spread the wealth, but the most awards went to Chicago Shakespeare Theater. It earned five, four for its production of William Shakespeare's "The Tempest," co-directed by Aaron Posner and Teller, of the magic/comedy duo Penn & Teller.
"The Tempest" also received awards for best play (large theater), lighting designer Thom Weaver and magic designer Johnny Thompson.
Director Rachel Rockwell was recognized for her work on CST's "Ride The Cyclone," which opens off-Broadway next month.
Chicago's Porchlight Music Theatre earned four awards, all for its revival of "Dreamgirls." Porchlight's revival garnered top awards for best musical (mid-size theater), supporting actor Eric Lewis, costume designer Bill Morey and principal actress Donica Lynn.
Lynn, a Marriott and Drury Lane veteran, prevailed over fellow nominees and two-time Tony Award winners Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole.
"I am humbled," said Lynn, whose roof-shaking version of "I Am Changing" was greeted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
Lynn quipped that her nomination alongside Ebersole and LuPone was a cruel joke. "I'm honored to be in this category with this amazing group of women," she said.
Mary Beth Fisher was named best principal actress in a play for Steppenwolf Theatre Company's "Domesticated."
Dexter Zollicoffer received the principal actor in a play for his performance of a transgender etiquette expert in Northlight Theatre's premiere of Philip Dawkins' "Charm."
"Anyone who's ever stood at this mic knows you can only get here through the artistry and talents of countless other people," said Zollicoffer, who paid tribute to Northlight artistic director B.J. Jones, Dawkins and activist Gloria Allen whose work inspired the play.
Dawkins shared "Charm's" new work award with John Reeger, the late Julie Shannon and Michael Mahler who won for Mercury Theater's "The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes."
The award for new adaptation went to Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls and Seth Bockley for the ambitious "2666," adapted from Roberto Bolano's 900-page novel.
Bockley thanked Falls for "the greatest artistic opportunity and accomplishment of my life."
"Thank you to the artistic community of Chicago for being unafraid of big stories ... the ones that spur us on," Bockley said.
A standing ovation also greeted Michael Halberstam, artistic director of Writers Theatre in Glencoe, who the Jeff Committee recognized for being a force in Chicago-area theater over the last 25 years.
"I hope I'm not expected to die in the near future," joked the director/adapter/writer whose company has received 100 Jeff nominations and 26 awards.
"Never has what we do been more important than now," Halberstam said. "All of us stimulate courage ... and doing so in a very tangible way, we all change the world."
"The country is not only divided in two ... it's fractured," he continued. "Art is the one place where people of opposing perspectives can come together and have a communal perspective."