Monday, October 19, 2009

Jeff Awards Preview

Tonight will see the Equity Jeff Awards given out at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. The nominations follow, as well as my commentary on the various categories. We'll see how my predictions do!

PRODUCTION — PLAY - LARGE

"The Arabian Nights" - Lookingglass Theatre Company
"Boleros for the Disenchanted" - Goodman Theatre
"The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of King Edward II ..." - Chicago Shakespeare Theater
"The Lieutenant of Inishmore" - Northlight Theatre
"The Piano Lesson" - Court Theatre
"Ruined" - Goodman Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club
"The Seafarer" - Steppenwolf Theatre Company
"Twelfth Night" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater


This is a pretty exceptional slate--all of the shows were very well-received, and some were quite adventurous. While every production deserves to be on this list, I'm particularly gratified to see the wickedly violent Lieutenant of Inishmore and the stunningly audacious Edward II on the list, as either could easily have turned off more conventional audiences. As much as I'd like to see Lieutenant, which I worked on, win, I think it's down to either Arabian Nights or Ruined. The former had the advantage of being directed by hometown girl Mary Zimmerman, while the latter went on the win the Pulitzer in April (and was exceptionally moving). I'm gonna guess Ruined gets it.

PRODUCTION — PLAY - MIDSIZE

"The History Boys" - TimeLine Theatre Company
"The Little Foxes" - Shattered Globe Theatre
"A Moon for the Misbegotten" - First Folio Theatre
"Not Enough Air" - TimeLine Theatre Company
"Our Lady of the Underpass" - Teatro Vista . . . Theatre with a View
"The Overwhelming" - Next Theatre Company
"These Shining Lives" - Rivendell Theatre Ensemble


History Boys is a pretty prohibitive favorite. All of the productions were well-received (and in The Overwhelming's case, rapturously), but none had anything like the success of History Boys, which just completed a sold-out six-month run yesterday. The fact that it was also a stunningly good production of an extraordinary and extremely tough play can only help its chances. The Overwhelming also had some hugely enthusiastic responses (and could have run much longer if the space had been available), and is the only one that seems able to beat History Boys.

PRODUCTION — MUSICAL - LARGE

"The Boys from Syracuse" - Drury Lane Oakbrook
"Caroline, or Change" - Court Theatre
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" - Marriott Theatre
"Million Dollar Quartet" - Dee Gee Theatricals, John Cossette Productions and Northern Lights, Inc.
"A Minister's Wife"- Writers' Theatre
"Miss Saigon" - Drury Lane Oakbrook
"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" - Marriott Theatre


I'm not sure what the favorite is, but I'm pulling for Caroline, or Change. It's one of the truly great musicals of the past decade, and Court's production could not have been better--brilliantly performed, staged with heartbreaking simplicity, and, in the fall of 2008 when "change" was on everyone's mind, stunningly timely. Spelling Bee, the only other of the nominees I saw, was delightful (and should really have gotten a nomination for Ensemble), but Caroline is something we won't see again soon. On another note--where is Grey Gardens on this list? Northlight put on a gorgeous, subtle productioin of a very difficult show, both scenically spectacular and emotionally intimate, with exceptional work from everyone in the ensemble. It's odd not to see it here.

PRODUCTION — MUSICAL - MIDSIZE

"Once on this Island" - Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago
"Tomorrow Morning" - Hilary A. Williams, LLC


I'm not sure--I saw Once on this Island, which was decent but not extraordinary. The response to Tomorrow Morning was critically mixed, and I didn't hear much of any buzz from someone who saw it. Couldn't say.

PRODUCTION — REVUE

"America: All Better!" - The Second City
"Forbidden Broadway: Dances with the Stars" - John Freedson, Harriet Yellin and Margaret Cotter
"Studs Terkel's Not Working" - The Second City e.t.c.


Another one I can't call. Forbidden Broadway had brilliant moments, but parts were not so great and it closed very quickly. I'm guessing that the mainstage Second City show has an edge on the e.t.c. production, but I don't know for sure.

ENSEMBLE

"The Arabian Nights" - Lookingglass Theatre Company
"The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of King Edward II..." - Chicago Shakespeare Theater
"Forbidden Broadway: Dances with the Stars" - John Freedson, Harriet Yellin and Margaret Cotter
"The History Boys" - TimeLine Theatre Company
"Million Dollar Quartet" - Dee Gee Theatricals, John Cossette Productions and Northern Lights, Inc.
"Scenes from the Big Picture" - Seanachai Theatre Company
"The Seafarer" - Steppenwolf Theatre Company
"Studs Terkel's Not Working" - The Second City e.t.c.


This is often considered the most sought-after award at the Jeffs, as Chicago particularly prizes ensemble acting. While I'd love to see the fearless work done by the ensemble of Edward II or Scenes from the Big Picture, a smaller show, get recognized, I'm guessing it will be between Arabian Nights and History Boys. If the former doesn't win Best Production--Play, it may end up recognized for Ensemble. 


NEW WORK — PLAY

Lisa Dillman - "The Walls" - Rivendell Theatre Ensemble
Lynn Nottage - "Ruined" - Goodman Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club
Masha Obolensky - "Not Enough Air" - TimeLine Theatre Company
Tanya Saracho - "Kita y Fernanda" - 16th Street Theater
Tanya Saracho - "Our Lady of the Underpass" - Teatro VistaĆ¢€¦Theatre with a View


Interestingly, and all-female category this year--maybe Chicago is less afflicted than the rest of the country by the lack of opportunities for female playwrights? It's particularly gratifying to see local author Tanya Saracho get two nominations. However, it looks pretty likely that New Yorker Lynn Nottage will win for Ruined. As it's already won the Pulitzer and seen great success here and in New York (and look for it to be done everywhere in the 2010-11 season), adding a Jeff to its mantel seems likely. (And it doesn't hurt that it's a gorgeous, moving play abut an important subject.)

NEW ADAPTATION — PLAY

Seth Bockley - "Jon" - Collaboraction
Frank Galati - "Kafka on the Shore" - Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Frank Mahon & Milissa Pacelli - "The Quiet Man Tales" - Libby Adler Mages, Tony D'Angelo and Smock Alley Theater Company


Kafka on the Shore and The Quiet Man Tales got some positive attention, but Jon was one of the real sensations of last fall. Seth Bockley's been making a real name for himself recently, and Collaboraction is one of the hippest companies in town, so I'm betting on Jon to take this one.

NEW WORK OR ADAPTATION - MUSICAL

David H. Bell, Jeremy Cohen & Aaron Thielen - "The Bowery Boys" - Marriott Theatre
David H. Bell & Keith Harrison Dworkin - "The Boys from Syracuse" - Drury Lane Oakbrook
Josh Schmidt, Jan Tranen & Austin Pendleton - "A Minister's Wife" - Writers' Theatre


First off I have to give my hearty congratulations to David H. Bell, a professor of mine at Northwestern, for his double nomination--not to mention Keith Harrison Dworkin, a classmate of mine there, for his nomination for The Boys from Syracuse. However, A Minister's Wife, based on Shaw's Candida, was a critical and popular smash, being extended several times, so it looks likely to take the prize.

DIRECTOR - PLAY

Randall Arney - "The Seafarer" - Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Nick Bowling - "The History Boys" - TimeLine Theatre Company
David Cromer - "Picnic" - Writers' Theatre
Sean Graney - "The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of King Edward IIĆ¢€¦" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Ron OJ Parsons - "The Piano Lesson" - Court Theatre
John Tillinger - "Don't Dress for Dinner" - The British Stage Company
Alison C. Vesely - "A Moon for the Misbegotten" - First Folio Theatre
Rachel Walshe - "These Shining Lives" - Rivendell Theatre Ensemble
Kate Whoriskey - "Ruined" - Goodman Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club


This one is pretty up in the air--it could be Bowling for his dynamic staging of History Boys, Cromer adding to his shelf of awards for his fine-grained work on the nationally-acclaimed Picnic, or Whoriskey for the thrilling, vibrant world she created in Ruined. My sentimental favorite is Graney for his unapologetically director-centric and fearlessly bizarre promenade staging of Edward II, but really it seems wide-open to me at this point.

DIRECTOR - MUSICAL

David H. Bell - "The Boys from Syracuse" - Drury Lane Oakbrook
Michael Halberstam - "A Minister's Wife" - Writers' Theatre
Charles Newell - "Caroline, or Change" - Court Theatre
Marc Robin - "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" - Marriott Theatre
Rachel Rockwell - "Miss Saigon" - Drury Lane Oakbrook


Again, I'm pulling for Newell and Caroline, or Change. The staging wasn't out there in the way some Court shows are, choosing instead to focus on both the political and emotional resonances of the story. However, it was the only of the productions I saw, so I can't really say for sure. By the way, where is B. J. Jones on this list and the previous ones? He did spectacular work on both The Lieutenant of Inishmore and Grey Gardens, each of which could easily have floundered without spot-on direction, and didn't get a nod for either. It's a shame.

DIRECTOR — REVUE

Gerald Alessandrini & William Selby - Forbidden Broadway: Dances with the Stars" - John Freedson, Harriet Yellin and Margaret Cotter
Matt Hovde - America: All Better!" - The Second City
Matt Hovde - Studs Terkel's Not Working" - The Second City e.t.c.


Another one I'm not sure of, but I'll take the safe route and bet that Matt Hovde will win it.


ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE — PLAY

Maury Cooper - "Buried Child" - Shattered Globe Theatre
Russell G. Jones - "Ruined" - Goodman Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club
Timothy Edward Kane - "Rock 'n' Roll" - Goodman Theatre
Larry Neumann, Jr. - "A Moon for the Misbegotten" - First Folio Theatre
William L. Petersen - "Blackbird" - Victory Gardens Theater
Robert Sella - "Amadeus" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater


Another strong field without an oveerpowering frontrunner, but I'm guessing that Petersen's star power and being willing to return to Chicago and do a few shows a year, making some companies a whole lot of money, will win it for him. Not to mention that he apparently did superb work.

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE — MUSICAL

Joseph Anthony Foronda - "Miss Saigon" - Drury Lane Oakbrook
Sean Fortunato - "Curtains" - Drury Lane Oakbrook
Nick Garrison - "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" - American Theater Company
Brian Sears - "The Bowery Boys" - Marriott Theatre
Richard Strimer - "Crazy for You" - Theatre at the Center


I didn't see any of these productions, and haven't heard overwhelming buzz for any of the performances, so I won't hazard a guess.

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE - PLAY

Janet Ulrich Brooks - "Not Enough Air" - TimeLine Theatre Company
Saidah Arrika Ekulona - "Ruined" - Goodman Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club
Mary Beth Fisher - "Rock 'n' Roll" - Goodman Theatre
Kirsten Fitzgerald - "Pumpgirl" - A Red Orchid Theatre
Mattie Hawkinson - "Blackbird" - Victory Gardens Theater
Peggy Roeder - "Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory & The Thanksgiving Visitor" - Provision Theater
Rebecca Spence - These Shining Lives" - Rivendell Theatre Ensemble


A very full category with some excellent work, but Hawkinson got the most positive attention--some even saying she outdid Petersen, her much more famous costar. I think she'll win it, and we'll see a lot of her soon.

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE — MUSICAL

E. Faye Butler - "Caroline, or Change" - Court Theatre
McKinley Carter - "John and Jen" - Apple Tree Theatre
Mary Ernster - "The Light in the Piazza" - Marriott Theatre
Mary Ernster - "Wings" - Apple Tree Theatre
Hollis Resnik - "Grey Gardens" - Northlight Theatre


This may be the most competitive category of the night, with Resnik and Butler both having given hugely acclaimed, extraordinary performances. I'm guessing that Butler's more naturalistic work will beat out Resnik's star turn--Butler also has the advantage of Caroline, or Change being one of the great musicals of the new century and Grey Gardens being merely (ha) a wonderful show--but it's really anybody's guess.

SOLO PERFORMANCE

Taylor Mac - "The Young Ladies of . . ." - About Face Theatre
Max McLean - "Mark's Gospel" - Fellowship for the Performing Arts
Tom Mula - "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol" - Theater Wit
Gwendolyn Whiteside - "The K of D: An Urban Legend" - The Route 66 Theatre Company


Another one I don't have a guess for.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE — PLAY

Lance Baker - "Mauritius" - Northlight Theatre
Jake Cohen - "Up" - Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Jon Michael Hill - "The Tempest" - Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Ross Lehman - "Twelfth Night" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Ron Rains - "The Quiet Man Tales" - Libby Adler Mages, Tony D'Angelo and Smock Alley Theater Company
Alex Weisman - The History Boys" - TimeLine Theatre Company
Larry Yando - Twelfth Night" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater


This one could go any way--Baker's delicious villainy, heartfelt work from Cohen and Weisman (both of whom are friends from Northwestern--good job guys!), Lehman and Yando's hilarious character work...I bet whoever wins does by a nose. I'm going to pick Weisman, but I can't say for sure.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE — MUSICAL

Malcolm Durning - "Caroline, or Change" - Court Theatre
Sean Fortunato - "The Producers" - Theatre at the Center
Levi Kreis - "Million Dollar Quartet" - Dee Gee Theatricals, John Cossette Productions, and Northern Lights, Inc.
Dennis Moench - "All Shook Up" - Marriott Theatre
Max Quinlan - "The Light in the Piazza" - Marriott Theatre
Alan Schmuckler - "A Minister's Wife" - Writers' Theatre
Bernie Yvon - "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" - Marriott Theatre


Another full category (and another ecent Northwestern grad in Alan Schmuckler), but Kreis apparently sets the stage aflame every night in Million Dollar Quarter--and is still doing it in the open run at the Apollo--so I'm voting for him.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE — PLAY

Janet Ulrich Brooks - "Weekend" - TimeLine Theatre Company
Hillary Clemens - "Picnic" - Writers' Theatre
Linda Gehringer - "The Crowd You're In With" - Goodman Theatre
Spencer Kayden - "Don't Dress for Dinner" - The British Stage Company
Eileen Niccolai - "The Little Foxes" - Shattered Globe Theatre
Roxanne Reese - "Magnolia" - Goodman Theatre


The three performances I saw--Brooks, Niccolai, and Reese--were all extraordinary in different ways. Brooks somehow made loathsome bigotry positively hilarious, NIccolai really got to the core of Birdie, and Reese showed her lifetime in the smallest things--especially when she sang. I'm giving this one to Brooks, an off-Loop stalwart finally getting the attention she deserves, but we'll see.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE - MUSICAL

Liz Baltes - "A Minister's Wife" - Writers' Theatre
Melanie Brezill - "Caroline, or Change" - Court Theatre
Alene Robertson - "Mame" - Drury Lane Oakbrook
Summer Smart - "The Light in the Piazza" - Marriott Theatre
Laura E. Taylor - "The Producers" - Theatre at the Center
Nancy Voigts - "Curtains" - Drury Lane Oakbrook


Brezill (yet another former classmate) and Smart were the only ones I saw, and both were fantastic. If the committee wants to encourage young talent, either would be a popular choice. If they go for a beloved performer with a long time in the business, Robertson--who was reportedly deliriously funny as Vera Charles--should get it.

ACTOR IN A REVUE

Mark David Kaplan - "Forbidden Broadway: Dances with the Stars" - John Freedson, Harriet Yellin, and Margaret Cotter
George Andrew Wolff - "Side by Side by Sondheim" - Light Opera Works Second Stage


Kaplan was very funny, but I didn't see Wolff's work, so it's an open question.

ACTRESS IN A REVUE

Amanda Blake Davis — "Studs Terkel's Not Working" - The Second City e.t.c.
Anne Gunn — "Side by Side by Sondheim" - Light Opera Works Second Stage
Leisa Mather — "Forbidden Broadway: Dances with the Stars" - John Freedson, Harriet Yellin, and Margaret Cotter


Ditto.




Most of the design categories I don't have the expertise to comment on, but here are the nominees with limited commentary.

SCENIC DESIGN - LARGE

Christopher Ash - "Pump Boys & Dinettes" - Drury Lane Oakbrook
Brian Sidney Bembridge - "The Maids" - Writers' Theatre
Linda Buchanan - "Boleros for the Disenchanted" - Goodman Theatre
Kevin Depinet - "The Crowd You're In With" - Goodman Theatre
Jack Magaw - "Picnic" - Writers' Theatre
Lucy Osborne - "Twelfth Night" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater


The work here was doubtless excellent, but the lack of nominations for either Grey Gardens' rotating house or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde's door-filled set is mystifying. I'm guessing it goes to Twelfth Night's giant pool, though.


SCENIC DESIGN - MIDSIZE
Brian Sidney Bembridge - "The History Boys" - TimeLine Theatre Company
Melania Lancy - "The Little Foxes" - Shattered Globe Theatre
Angela Miller - "A Moon for the Misbegotten" - First Folio Theatre
Courtney O'Neill - "Talk Radio" - The Gift Theatre Company
Keith Pitts - "Weekend" - TimeLine Theatre Company


TimeLine frequently uses its space in creative ways, and Bembridge's set was particularly inventive and well-suited to the show.

COSTUME DESIGN - LARGE

Mara Blumenfeld - "The Arabian Nights" - Lookingglass Theatre Company
Dona Granata - "Turn of the Century" - Goodman Theatre
Virgil Johnson - "Amadeus" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Lucy Osborne - "Twelfth Night" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Tatjana Radisic - "Mame" - Drury Lane Oakbrook


Notice that they're all lavish period shows. Wonder if any contemporary-set shows had good costume design?

COSTUME DESIGN — MIDSIZE

Rachel Laritz - "The Voysey Inheritance" - Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
Bill Morey - "Candide" - Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago
Alison Siple - "The Marriage of Figaro" - Remy Bumppo Theatre Company


Another set of period shows. The costumes for Candide were about the only salvageable parts of that show, so maybe they'll be recognized.

SOUND DESIGN — LARGE

Lindsay Jones - "Macbeth" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Ray Nardelli and Joshua Horvath - "Miss Saigon" - Drury Lane Oakbrook
Andre J. Pluess - "Ghostwritten" - Goodman Theatre
Josh Schmidt - "The Tempest" - Steppenwolf Theatre
Darron L. West - "Radio Macbeth" - Court Theatre


Macbeth's sound design was about the most creative and best-thought-out part of the evening, but Radio Macbeth was apparently all sound, so I'm guessing it will take the prize.

SOUND DESIGN - MIDSIZE

Joe Court - "The Unseen" - A Red Orchid Theatre
Andrew Hansen - "Not Enough Air" - TimeLine Theatre Company
Lindsay Jones - "The K of D: An Urban Legend" - The Route 66 Theatre Company

LIGHTING DESIGN — LARGE

Christopher Akerlind - "Rock 'n' Roll" - Goodman Theatre
John Horan - "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" - Northlight Theatre
James Ingalls - "Kafka on the Shore" - Steppenwolf Theatre
Natasha Katz - "Turn of the Century" - Goodman Theatre
Jesse Klug - "Miss Saigon" - Drury Lane Oakbrook
Philip S. Rosenberg - "Amadeus" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

LIGHTING DESIGN — MIDSIZE

Matthew Gawryk - "The Unseen" - A Red Orchid Theatre
Jeremy Getz - "El Grito del Bronx" - Collaboraction and Teatro Vista i/a/w Goodman Theatre
Shelley Strasser Holland - "The Glass Menagerie" - Shattered Globe Theatre
Jesse Klug - "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" - American Theater Company
Tyler Micoleau - "The Screwtape Letters" - Fellowship for the Performing Arts


CHOREOGRAPHY
David H. Bell - "The Boys from Syracuse" - Drury Lane Oakbrook
Brenda Didier - "Once on this Island" - Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago
Linda Fortunato - "Crazy for You" - Theatre at the Center
Matt Raftery - "The Bowery Boys" - Marriott Theatre
Marc Robin - "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" - Marriott Theatre

ORIGINAL INCIDENTAL MUSIC

Andrew Hansen - "Not Enough Air" - TimeLine Theatre Company
Alaric Jans - "Twelfth Night" - Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Dominic Kanza - "Ruined" - Goodman Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club


The music in Ruined, largely performed live, was practically another character, so it will probably take the prize.

MUSIC DIRECTION

Richard Carsey - "A Minister's Wife" - Writers' Theatre
Eugene Dizon - "Candide" - Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago
Roberta Duchak - "Miss Saigon" - Drury Lane Oakbrook
Michael Mahler - "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" - Marriott Theatre
Ryan T. Nelson - "The Light in the Piazza" - Marriott Theatre
Doug Peck - "Caroline, or Change" - Court Theatre
Doug Peck - "Wings" - Apple Tree Theatre
Malcolm Ruhl - "Pump Boys & Dinettes" - Drury Lane Oakbrook


Great work all around, but Peck has been really exceptional for the past few seasons. I'm guessing the sheer number of styles he got from the pit for Caroline will win for him this year.

ARTISTIC SPECIALIZATION

Ned Mochel - Fight Choreography - "On An Average Day" - The Route 66 Theatre Company
Steve Tolin - Special Effects - "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" - Northlight Theatre
Mike Tutaj - Video Design - "Jon" - Collaboraction
Mike Tutaj - Film & Video Design - "Tomorrow Morning" - Hillary A. Williams, LLC


Tolin in a walk. The special effects for  Inishmore were staggeringly (and nauseatingly) good.


It's only a couple of hours to the ceremony (these things take a long time to write!) but I hope you enjoy the roundup!

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