Female artists dominate, but suburban theaters also honored at 51st Jeff Awards
Female theater artists -- including Drury Lane, Marriott, Northlight and Paramount theater veterans E. Faye Butler, Barbara E. Robertson and Donica Lynn -- prevailed in the acting categories at the 51st annual equity Joseph Jefferson Awards ceremony Monday in Oakbrook Terrace.
Overall, however, Chicago productions trumped their suburban counterparts. First Folio, Marriott and Paramount -- which for several years has dominated the large musical categories -- received a total of just four awards.
Women earned six of the 10 acting awards with perennial winners Butler and Robertson adding to their collections. Both received their ninth equity Jeffs: Butler for Porchlight Music Theatre's "Gypsy" and Robertson for Firebrand Theatre's "Queen of the Mist."
"This is the award I take home tonight," Butler said, "but my reward was last year when I got to do this show six to eight times a week."
Janet Ulrich Brooks and Chaon Cross received awards for principal performance in a play: Brooks for her performance as Maria Callas in TimeLine Theatre's "Master Class," and Cross for her performance as Rosalind Franklin, the British chemist who made possible the discovery of DNA, in Court Theatre's "Photograph 51."
Paramount artistic director Jim Corti received the large musical directing award for "The Producers," which earned Lincolnshire native Brenda Didier her second Jeff Award, her first for choreography.
Didier referenced late director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell, recalling "whenever I was in doubt, Rachel Rockwell said, 'Be fierce, be fearless and just do it.'"
A directing award isn't about one person, Corti said.
"It's about a whole group of people, their creativity and their expertise. It's art, it's always changing and it's always serving people," he said.
In the supporting performance category, Lynn received her second Jeff for Theatre at the Center's "Ghost the Musical."
"Keep loving one another," advised Lynn, "because it's going to keep this community and this world going round."
Nat Zegree picked up his supporting award for channeling Jerry Lee Lewis in his Chicago area debut, Marriott Theatre's "Million Dollar Quartet." Cassy Schillo and Wendy A. Huber won the artistic specialization award for properties for First Folio Theatre's "Star Wars"-inspired dramedy "All Childish Things."
They shared the specialization award with Kristy Leigh Hall, who won for makeup design for Remy Bumppo Theatre's "Frankenstein" -- which earned the most awards, including nods for mid-size play, director Ian Frank, sound designer Christopher Kriz (a First Folio associate) and lighting designer Mike Durst.
"The person I have to thank most is our director Ian Frank," said Kriz. "On day one, he articulated such a perfectly realized vision, it gave us (the designers) carte blanche to create the world we did."
The Jeff Committee also recognized First Folio associate Joe Foust, for his solo performance in American Blues Theater's "The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey."
Lili-Anne Brown, who directed Drury Lane's current production "The Color Purple," received her second Jeff in as many years for mid-size musical direction for Firebrand Theatre and TimeLine Theatre's "Caroline, or Change," which was also named best mid-size musical.
"Hire more women," urged Firebrand artistic director Harmony France. "Hire more people of color. Hire more women of color. Not only does it make beautiful art. It makes sense."
Steppenwolf Theatre's premiere of Pulitzer Prize winner Bruce Norris' highly charged "Downstate" about paroled pedophiles received awards for new work and for large production of a play.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater's North American premiere of "Six," a rock and hip-hop revue about Henry VIII's six wives, was named best large musical. The tuner, which opens on Broadway next year with the CST cast, also earned awards for its ensemble and for music directors Roberta Duchak and Joe Beighton.
The 2019 Special Award went to Teatro Vista, an ensemble that for nearly three decades has depicted the Latino experience "with haunting, humorous, magical stories," said Jeff Committee chairman David Liesse.
"Thank you so much," said artistic director Ricardo Gutierrez in response to the capacity crowd's standing ovation. "I'm so grateful it (the award) is heavy because it's carrying the weight of 29 years of Latinx stories. ... It's important those stories are told."