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American Blues Theater’s ‘Buddy Holly Musical’ Tops 2018 Equity Jeff Awards

From left: Chuckie Benson, Michael Mahler, Zachary Stevenson and Kieran McCabe in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.” (Photo credit: Michael Brosilow)From left: Chuckie Benson, Michael Mahler, Zachary Stevenson and Kieran McCabe in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.” (Photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

They say “the music died” on the day in 1959 when rock ‘n’ roll legend Buddy Holly perished in a plane crash. But that geeky Texas boy with the trademark thick glasses is still making a big noise.

The latest proof? The sensational American Blues Theater production of “Buddy – The Buddy Holly Musical,” which enjoyed a long run at Stage 773 during the 2017-2018 season, and danced away with the most Equity Jeff Awards (five of them) at Monday night’s sold-out ceremony held at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook. “Buddy” was named best production of a musical by a midsize company, and its director (Lili-Anne Brown), music director (Michael Mahler), ensemble, and principal actor in a musical (Zachary Stevenson) also received awards.

Nabbing the award for best musical by a large company was the luminous Marriott Theatre production of “Ragtime,” with an award also going to its director, Nick Bowling.

Named best production of a play by a large company was “A View from the Bridge,” at the Goodman Theatre, where Ivo van Hove remounted his Broadway production of the Arthur Miller classic and also was cited as best director. (Sadly, the superb Goodman production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Father Came Home from the War” was wholly overlooked.) A Red Orchid Theater’s world premiere of Brett Neveu’s “Traitor” won the award for best midsize company production of a play, as did its director, Michael Shannon.

Taylor Blim (No. 2), Natalie Joyce (No. 7) and Mary Tilden (No. 13) in “The Wolves” at Goodman Theatre. (Credit: Liz Lauren)Taylor Blim (No. 2), Natalie Joyce (No. 7) and Mary Tilden (No. 13) in “The Wolves” at Goodman Theatre. (Credit: Liz Lauren)

Among the other award winners were the ensemble of the Goodman Theatre production of “The Wolves,” Sarah DeLappe’s play about a girls’ soccer team; and Kate Fry (for best solo performance) for her captivating turn as poet Emily Dickinson in Court Theatre’s “The Belle of Amherst.”

Among the shows that did not win awards – but unquestionably deserved them – were “Memphis” (at Porchlight Music Theater), “Jitney” (Congo Square Theater); “Machinal” (at the Greenhouse Theater Center), and “Mies Julie” (at Victory Gardens Theater), with actress Heather Chrisler giving tour de force performances in the latter two.

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Equity Jeff Awards, the annual event that honors excellence in all aspects of Chicago area theatrical production by companies operating under Equity union contracts. And to celebrate that anniversary, Special Jeff Awards were presented to four Chicago-area companies that have flourished for more than a half century: The Goodman Theatre (established in 1925); Drury Lane Productions (1949); Court Theatre (1955), and The Second City (1959).

For a complete list of the 2018 Equity Jeff Awards winners visit www.jeffawards.org.

Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic


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