The exceptional breadth, depth and variety of Chicago theater was on full display Monday night as the winners of the 2019 Jeff Equity Awards were announced at the annual gala celebration held at the Drury Lane Theater in Oakbrook. The annual event honors excellence in theatrical production by Chicago-area companies operating under Equity union contracts.
Winning the honors for best production of a play by a large company was “Downstate,” Bruce Norris’ chilling look at the post-prison lives of sex offenders in Illinois (produced by Steppenwolf Theatre). Remy Bumppo Theatre’s production of “Frankenstein” adapted by Nick Dear – one of the many takes on the haunting tale of science-run-amok staged during the 200th anniversary season of the publication of Mary Shelley’s novel – was named best production of a play by a midsize company.
In the musicals category, the wildly successful Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of “Six” – in which the six wives of England’s infamous King Henry VIII get to rock out the story of their fates in irresistible, pop-star style – won the top prize for a large theater. (The musical, created by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, will open on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on March 12, 2020 with all six of the actresses in the Chicago production reprising their roles.)
Named best musical by a midsize company was “Caroline, or Change,” produced by the impressive woman-focused Firebrand Theatre (in partnership with TimeLine Theatre). The show, by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori, is set in 1963 and tells the story of an African American housekeeper and the white family she works for in St. Charles, Louisiana.
The award for best revue went to the Black Ensemble Theater’s rollicking production of “You Can’t Fake the Funk: A Journey Through Funk Music.” And the highly prized Jeff for best ensemble was awarded to Court Theatre for its superb revival of the Ntozake Shange classic, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” (Court, like Remy Bumppo, picked up five awards during the evening.)
Garnering awards for best new work were Norris’ play, “Downstate,” and two musicals: “We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time” (the one-man show by David Cale, presented at the Goodman Theatre), and “Miracle” (the musical by Michael Mahler and Jason Brett about the Cubs’ World Series win in 2016, produced at the Royal George Theatre by William A. Marovitz and Arny Granat).
The 2019 Special Jeff Award was presented to Teatro Vista, the company founded in 1989 by actors Henry Godinez and Eddie Torres and now under the artistic direction of Ricardo Gutierrez. During its three decades, “(Teatro Vista) has theatrically depicted the human experience through the unique Latinx perspective and enriched the Chicago theater scene with haunting, humorous, historical and magical stories,” according to the Jeff Committee.
For a complete list of the 2019 Jeff Award winners, visit www.jeffawards.org.
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