Regional Reviews: Chicago
Also see John's review of Falsettos
Requiem for a Heavyweight by The Artistic Home Ensemble and The Bridges of Madison County by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre won the top honors in their respective categories at the 46th Annual Non-Equity Jeff Awards, presented Monday June 3 at Chicago's Athenaeum Theatre. The two productions also tied for most awards given to a single production, with four apiece. Each achieved a near sweep of their major award categories, with Requiem for a Heavyweight winning Production of a Play, Director of a Play (John Mossman), Performer in a Principal Role in a Play (Mark Pracht), and Sound Design (Petter Wahlback). The Bridges of Madison County's awards mostly paralleled those of Requiem for a Heavyweight's, winning Production of a Musical, Director of a Musical (Fred Anzevino), Performer in a Principal Role - Musical (Kelli Harrington), and Music Direction (Jeremy Ramey). The four awards each tied their producing companies for most awards given to a single company with each other as well as a third company, Raven Theatre, whose four awards were split among three of its productions.
For the second year in a row, nominations and awards in the performing categories have been gender-neutral, with double the number of nominations and awards in each of the four categories than there were in earlier years when separate awards were given for male and female performers. This year, two male actors won the Performer in a Leading Role - Play award, with Patrick Agada of Jackalope Theatre Company's Dutch Masters honored alongside Pracht's role as "Mountain" McClintock in Requiem for a Heavyweight. The Performer in a Leading Role - Musical category was won by two women, with Missy Wise of BoHo Theatre's Bright Star honored as well Harrington (a double nominee, cited for her work in BoHo's A Little Night Music as well as the The Bridges of Madison County role for which she won).
Performers winning for their work in supporting roles in a musical were Jonathan Schwart and Michelle Jasso for Kokandy Productions' Grand Hotel. Performers winning for supporting roles in a play included Brianna Buckley for Crumbs from the Table of Joy, Tiffany Bedwell in Yen (both at Raven), and August N. Forman for Girl in the Red Corner by Broken Nose Theater. Broken Nose also won the Ensemble award for its production of Plainclothes.
Most if not all of the companies eligible for the Non-Equity Awards are "storefront" theaters, performing in literal storefronts as well as churches, schools, or theater complexes with venues of generally 100 seats or fewer. The awards were once again a demonstration of the unique contributions of the Chicago's storefront scene. The economics of the segment allow the companies to stage plays and musicals that might not otherwise be financially viable in Equity productionscommercial or non-profit. Storefronts routinely mount new work or Chicago premieres of pieces by emerging playwrights; or they revive seldom-produced classics. Accordingly, this year's nominees and winners included two Broadway flops that thrived in more intimate settings (The Bridges of Madison County and Bright Star), the little-known Off-Broadway musical The Total Bent by Passing Strange's Stew and Heidi Rodewald, Rod Serling's nearly forgotten Requiem for a Heavyweight, new plays like Sideshow Theatre Company's Tilikum, an allegorical story of a whale kept in captivity (and another big winner, with three awards including Best New Play), and new musicals. Underscore Theater Company's historical musical drama Haymarket won Best New Musical, edging out Larry Todd Cousineau and Cindy O'Connor's FLIES! The Musical, a contemporary satirical riff on Lord of the Flies.
The nearly two and one half hour program moved reasonably quickly under the direction of Christopher Pazdernik. It opened with a ten-minute monologue by host Breon Arzell, a multi-talented performer and choreographer who sported a wardrobe of costumes that Elton John might admire, and a hip-hop number staged by Arzell. Arzell was also able to show off his Jeff Award winning choreography with a performance of "Christian Entertainment" from The Total Bent, one of five musical selections from "Best Musical Production" nominees. Actors from the seven nominated "Production of a Play" productions read speeches by the characters they played in those productions. They alternated with each other and read selections that suggested each character's arc. At ten minutes and including seven plays, the effort was a bit overlong but gave a strong suggestions of the meatiness of the roles and performances.
Production - Musical
Production - Play
Director - Musical
Director - Play
Performer in a Principal Role - Musical
Performer in a Principal Role - Play
Performer in a Supporting Role - Musical
Performer in a Supporting Role - Play
Original Music in a Play