In a lively two-hour show last Monday night, the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee handed out 29 awards in 28 categories at its 32nd annual ceremonies honoring outstanding work at union houses.
Selected from 121 nominees, the winners represented theatres large, small and diverse without one company or show dominating the awards, which is one reason the highly vocal crowd loved it.
The English language premiere of Joshua Sobol's "Ghetto" took the Jeff Award for Production/Play for Famous Door Theatre Company, a smallish Off-Loop troupe that has out-powered the larger theatres before. The show's director, Calvin MacLean, and supporting actress, Julia Neary, also won Jeffs for the brilliantly received hit, which enjoyed a six-month run.
Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace Theatre—a large musical house that frequently has missed the winner's circle—won the Production/Musical Jeff for "1776," which also brought honors to co-directors Ray Frewen and Gary Griffin. Ironically, the Director/Musical Jeff was presented by an official from the SSDC, which doesn't have a contract with Drury Lane Oakbrook.
Among acting honors, the highly coveted Ensemble award went to the all-male cast of "Among the Thugs" at the small Next Theatre Company. The play about soccer hooligans, adapted by Tom Szentgyorgi, also won Sound Design for Lindsay Jones.
In wildly-cheered presentations, the Actor/Play Jeff Award went to William Brown for "Nixon's Nixon," Writers Theatre; Actor/Musical to Andrew J. Lupp for "My One and Only," Drury Lane Oakbrook; and Actress/Musical to multiple winner E. Faye Butler for "Dinah Was," Northlight Theatre.
Honoring his co-actor in "Nixon's Nixon" and fellow nominee, Larry Yando, Brown said, "If you have the chance to do a demanding two-character play with a demanding actor who's also an extraordinary friend, you should take that chance."
The Goodman Theatre led the nominations derby with 13 and won five, yet didn't overwhelm the evening. Goodman's "A Raisin in the Sun" brought the Actress/Play Jeff to veteran Irma P. Hall. The Goodman production of "The Odyssey" won Original Music, Michael Bodeen and Willie Schwarz; Lighting Design, T. J. Gerckens; and New Adaptation, Mary Zimmerman (who also was nominated for Director).
Goodman playwright Rebecca Gilman picked up the New Work Jeff for her play "Boy Gets Girl," which was staged by the late director Michael Maggio. A New York production will open in February at the Manhattan Theatre Club, utilizing the Maggio staging.
The legacy of the well-loved Maggio was acknowledged in several ways. The Jefferson Committee announced a scholarship in his name, to be given annually to a directing student at The Theatre School/DePaul University, of which Maggio was Dean at the time of his premature death last August.
Also, the annual Jeff for direction of a play henceforth will be the Michael Maggio Jeff Award.
Other awards were: Choreogra- phy, Tammy Mader, "My One and Only," Drury Lane Oakbrook; Actor in a Revue, the electrifying Chester Gregory II, "The Jackie Wilson Story," Black Ensemble Theatre (Gregory tore up the room with a song from the show); Actress in a Revue, La Tonya Beacham, "Mahalia," Black Ensemble Theatre; and Scenic Design, Jeffrey M. Curley for "[sic]," Roadworks Productions.
Also, Supporting Actor/Play, Roy Dotrice, "A Moon for the Misbegotten," Goodman; Support- ing Actor/Musical, Nikkieli DeMone, "Side Show," Northlight Theatre; Supporting Actress/ Musical, Kelly Anne Clark, "Victor/Victoria," Marriott Theatre; Musical Direction, Tom Murray, "Once on This Island," Apple Tree Theatre; Costume, Paul Tazewell, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.
The one sore spot, as it has been since initiated seven years ago, was the presentation of awards for touring productions, euphemistically dubbed "Non-Resident." In past years, these lead balloons have brought hoots and jeers from audiences insulted by the very idea of them, as well as by the no-show winners.
This year, the laid-back crowd merely laughed when neither Heather Headley ("Aida") nor Joseph Anthony Foronda ("Miss Saigon") strode down the aisle to pick up their awards (the Jeffs don't allow substitute acceptors). SFX vice-president Eileen LeCario, a long-time local arts administrator, accepted the Production/Non-Resident award for "Fosse."
Finally, special awards for career achievement were presented to Kary M. Walker and to Byrne and Joyce Piven.
Walker retired last May after 21 years as producer of the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, one of the nation's most successful musical theatre houses.
The Pivens, actors and teachers of high stature, founded the Piven Theatre Workshop almost 30 years ago, and trained Joan and John Cusack, Aidan Quinn, and their own kids, Jeremy and Shira Piven, among many others. The entire point of their work, said Byrne Piven, is "to learn what it means to be a human being."
The 32nd annual Joseph Jefferson Awards were flawlessly presented at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, produced by Susan Haimes and directed by Marc Robin.