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Paramount Theatre Slices Up the Competition in 49th Jeff Awards

Chicago theatre celebrated its finest last night at Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace, as the 49th Annual Equity Jeff Awards presentation rewarded a wide variety of achievements. There was no doubt whatsoever, though, as to who the big winner was for the evening: Aurora’s Paramount Theatre, which took home a grand total of eight awards (twice as many as its nearest competitor, Court Theatre): five for its production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and three more for Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

Sweeney Todd’s awards went to the production as a whole for Best Musical in a Large Theatre, for Director of a Musical to Jim Corti, for Principal Actor in a Musical Paul-Jordan Jansen, who played the Demon Barber, for Lighting Design in a Large Theatre to Nick Belley and Jesse Klug, and for Music Direction to Tom Vendafreddo. Paramount added three more Little Mermaid awards for Scenic Design in a Large Theatre to Jeffrey D. Kmiec, for Costume Design in a Large Theatre to Theresa Ham, and for Puppet Design to Jesse Mooney-Bullock, who thanked the academy for recognizing its importance by making Puppet Design a separate category this year.

Court Theatre was also rewarded for two of its productions. Best Production in a Large Theatre went to Blues for an Alabama Sky, while its director Ron OJ Parson also won. Court Theatre also received two awards for Man in the Ring, to playwright Michael Cristofer and for Sound Design in a Large Theatre to André Pluess.

Other winning plays included Porchlight Theatre’s The Scottsboro Boys, which took home Best Musical in a Midsize Theatre; Remy Bumppo’s Born Yesterday (Best Play in a Midsize Theatre), and Drury Lane Theatre’s Smokey Joe’s Cafe (Best Revue).

Aside from Jansen, major acting honors went to Alex Weisman for “Hand to God” at Victory Gardens Theater (Principal Actor in a Play), to Angela Ingersoll for “End of the Rainbow” at Porchlight Music Theatre (Principal Actress in a play), to Kathy Voytko in “The Bridges of Madison County” at The Marriott Theatre (Principal Actress in a Musical). Michelle Lauto in “Spamilton” at The Royal George Theatre Cabaret won a surprise (and well-deserved) award for Actress in a Revue, and Austin Cook won in the actor category for “Marry Me a Little” at Porchlight Music Theatre.

Easily one of the highlights of the night was the Supporting Actor in a Musical award to Jonathan Butler Duplessis fo Parade (besting, among others, himself for Disney’s The Little Mermaid). His exuberant, energetic thank you speech evolved quickly into a love note to Chicago theatre:

“All I ever wanted to be was a part of the Chicago theatre community. I wanted to make my mark here. I’m a Chicago actor and I love performing in Chicago. We all love performing in Chicago.”

Deplessis’ comments were echoed throughout the night by other award recipients.

“East Texas Hot Links” at Writers Theatre won the prestigious Ensemble Award, sponsored by Actors Equity Association.

A Special Award was presented to Steve Scott, honoring his “career achievements that have inspired artistic collaboration, educational outreach and demonstrated dramatic creativity for more than 37 years.” He was introduced by long-time friends and associates Robert Falls and Roche Schulfer. In his speech, Scott reminded the gathering that “although your rehearsal rooms must be safe spaces, our theatres, by definition, are not.” Exhorting his fellow Chicagoans to continue to do edgy work, he nonetheless noted that we should “never lose empathy for those with whom we disagree.”

Ron OJ Parson’s Best Director award was also a favorite, and he solidified it when he told the audience that among his year’s highlights was that his theatre’s team had won the theatre league softball championship. “This is cool,” he said of the award, “but that was the shit.”

Politics largely stayed out of the spotlight during the evening, though the mere fact that plays like  The Scottsboro Boys, East Texas Hot Links and Blues for an Alabama Sky were winning so many awards served as a reminder that racial issues in our nation are, sadly, as timely as ever. And several women, receiving awards, commented on the opportunities afforded them in their roles. Michelle Lauto’s speech spoke of the fact that she had played thirteen women in eighty minutes without making any funny faces, having romantic conversations, etc., and had a lot of fun doing so. But, though there were one or two oblique references to “current events,” the name of our 46th President didn’t come up once. This was a Chicago theatre celebration, and everything was about those present.


2017 Equity Jeff Award Recipients


PRODUCTION – PLAY – LARGE
“Blues for an Alabama Sky” – Court Theatre
PRODUCTION – PLAY – MIDSIZE
“Born Yesterday” – Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
PRODUCTION – MUSICAL – LARGE
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – Paramount Theatre
PRODUCTION – MUSICAL – MIDSIZE
“The Scottsboro Boys” – Porchlight Music Theatre
PRODUCTION – REVUE
“Smokey Joe’s Café” – Drury Lane Productions
DIRECTOR – PLAY
Ron OJ Parson – “Blues for an Alabama Sky” – Court Theatre
DIRECTOR – MUSICAL
Jim Corti – “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – Paramount Theatre
ENSEMBLE
“East Texas Hot Links” – Writers Theatre
ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY
Alex Weisman – “Hand to God” – Victory Gardens Theater
ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICAL
Paul-Jordan Jansen – “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – Paramount Theatre
ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY
Angela Ingersoll – “End of the Rainbow” – Porchlight Music Theatre
ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICAL
Kathy Voytko – “The Bridges of Madison County” – The Marriott Theatre
ACTOR IN A REVUE
Austin Cook – “Marry Me a Little” – Porchlight Music Theatre
ACTRESS IN A REVUE
Michelle Lauto – “Spamilton” – The Royal George Theatre Cabaret
SOLO PERFORMANCE
Linda Reiter – “Rose” – The Greenhouse Theater Center in association with Forum Productions
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY
Marton Csokas – “Uncle Vanya” – Goodman Theatre
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL
Jonathan Butler-Duplessis – “Parade” – Writers Theatre
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY
Kymberly Mellen – “The Columnist” – American Blues Theater
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL
E. Faye Butler – “Chicago The Musical” – Drury Lane Productions
NEW PLAY
Michael Cristofer – “Man in the Ring” – Court Theatre
Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon – “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” – Northlight Theatre
Antoinette Nwandu – “Pass Over” – Steppenwolf Theatre Company
CHOREOGRAPHY
Matthew Crowle – “Crazy for You” – Drury Lane Productions
ORIGINAL MUSIC IN A PLAY
Orbert Davis – “Paradise Blue” – TimeLine Theatre Company
MUSIC DIRECTION
Tom Vendafreddo – “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – Paramount Theatre
SCENIC DESIGN – LARGE
Jeffrey D. Kmiec – “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” – Paramount Theatre
SCENIC DESIGN – MIDSIZE
Joe Schermoly – “Naperville” – Theater Wit
LIGHTING DESIGN – LARGE
Nick Belley and Jesse Klug – “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – Paramount Theatre
LIGHTING DESIGN – MIDSIZE
Cat Davis – “The River Bride” – Halcyon Theatre
COSTUME DESIGN – LARGE
Theresa Ham – “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” – Paramount Theatre
COSTUME DESIGN – MIDSIZE
Kristy Leigh Hall – “Pygmalion” – Remy Bumppo Theatre
SOUND DESIGN – LARGE
André Pluess – “Man in the Ring” – Court Theatre
SOUND DESIGN – MIDSIZE
Grover Hollway – “The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz” – The House Theatre of Chicago
PROJECTION DESIGN
Mike Tutaj – “Objects in the Mirror” – Goodman Theatre
PUPPET DESIGN
Jesse Mooney-Bullock – “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” – Paramount Theatre

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