The Jeff Award nominations for excellence in the productions of Chicago’s Equity contract theaters between Aug. 1, 2018 and July 31, 2019 have just been announced. And while perusing the nominations list – which serves as a fine reminder of some of the superb work presented over the course of the season – several questions came to mind.
First: While 2019 was designated “The Year of Chicago Theater” by the city of Chicago and the League of Chicago Theatres, I wondered if there was any data yet about whether the program broadened the theatergoing habits or basic awareness by local audiences of all that is on offer on Chicago-area stages. Second, I wondered if the theatergoing habits of national and international visitors to the city were altered in any significant way so that their usual choice of shows moved beyond the national touring productions of big-name musicals presented at the Loop-area theaters operated by Broadway in Chicago.
I have my doubts that either has occurred, although there are still four months left in the city’s program. I will be more than happy to be proved wrong. But my sense is that any attempt to make this city a far more widely understood “theater destination” has not been successful.
But back to the Jeffs, and a few teasing statistics, including the fact that Porchlight Music Theatre (which now makes its home at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, just a couple of blocks off the tourist hub of Michigan Avenue) topped the list with 17 nominations while the Paramount Theatre (in Aurora) earned 16, and Court Theatre (in the heart of Hyde Park) garnered 15. In addition, it is well worth noting that the season featured the production of 11 world-premiere plays and musicals.
Here are the 2019 Jeff nominees in the major categories:
• Production of a Play (Large Theater): “Downstate,” Steppenwolf Theatre; “Indecent,” Victor Gardens Theater; “Photograph 51,” Court Theatre; “Radio Golf,” Court Theatre; “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” Lookingglass Theatre.
• Production of a Play (Midsize Theater): “Frankenstein,” Remy Bumppo Theatre; “Noises Off,” Windy City Playhouse; “On Clover Road,” American Blues Theatre; “The Recommendation,” Windy City Playhouse; “Something Clean,” Sideshow Theatre Company and Rivendell Theatre Ensemble.
• Production of a Musical (Large Theater): “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” Drury Lane Productions; “Next to Normal,” Writers Theatre; “The Producers,” Paramount Theatre; “Six,” Chicago Shakespeare Theater; “The Wizard of Oz,” Paramount Theatre.
• Production of a Musical (Midsize Theater): “Caroline, or Change,” Firebrand Theatre in association with Timeline Theatre; “A Chorus Line,” Porchlight Music Theatre; “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” Porchlight Music Theatre; “Gypsy,” Porchlight Music Theatre.
• Production of a Revue: “Djembe! The Show,” Doug Manuel, Ashley DeSimone and TSG Theatrical; “Women of Soul,” Black Ensemble Theater; “You Can’t Fake the Funk: A Journey Through Funk Music,” Black Ensemble Theatre.
• Ensemble (Play): “Familiar,” Steppenwolf; “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Was Enuf,” Court Theatre; “Indecent,” Victory Gardens Theater; “Small Mouth Sounds,” A Red Orchid Theatre; “Twilight Bowl,” Goodman Theatre.
• Ensemble (Musical or Revue): “A Chorus Line,” Porchlight Music Theater; “Million Dollar Quartet,” Marriott Theatre; “Queen of the Mist,” Firebrand Theatre; “Six,” Chicago Shakespeare Theater; “You Can’t Fake the Funk: A Journey Through Funk Music,” Black Ensemble Theater.
For a complete list of the Equity Jeff nominations visit jeffawards.org.
The 51st annual Equity Jeff Awards ceremony, which is open to the public and will feature excerpts from many of the nominated productions, will be held on Oct. 21 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. For tickets ($85, including pre-and-post show parties, if purchased in advance, or $95 at the door, and $65 for theatrical union members) visit jeffawards.org.
Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic