The Equity Jeff awards were announced virtually this year. The 52nd annual recognition ceremony of excellence in performances and technical aspects had a lot of pluses.
Even though the ceremony was Nov. 9, it is still worth seeing on the Jeff Awards YouTube channel.
The good part of the virtual event is you can tune in when you want, watch, take a break, see performance clips and meet the nominees from your couch. Among the clips are scenes from “Color Purple,” “Bug” and “Spamalot.”
So, grab a snack, glass of wine and hear who takes top honors among a field of superb nominees.
Jeff Chairman John Glover gives a fine introduction to the whys and therefore of the event. Popular Chicago actor (actress is seldom used now) and former Jeff award recipient Michelle Lauto handles hosting duties.
Because Covid interrupted the season, the Jeff Committee attended a mere 78 shows this year. That may seem a lot to people outside Chicago but the theater community here counts approximately 250 production companies in and around the city.
Jeff Equity productions that qualified for an award were limited to those shown between Aug. 1, 2019 through mid-March 2020. The hope is that some of the interrupted and not staged shows will be performed next year.
Here are some of the top winners. But even knowing them it is still fun to watch the ceremony.
Drury Lane Productions collected awards for “An American in Paris,” (Production – Musical -Large and Choreography) and “The Color Purple,” Director – Musical.)
Windy City Playhouse was recognized for “The Boys in the Band” (Midsize Production, Director, Scenic Design and Ensemble).
Court Theater received awards for “King Hedley II” (Production – Play- Large and Kelvin Rostin, Jr. Principal Role and A.C. Smith, Supporting Role).
Porchlight Music Theatre garnered awards for “Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies” (Revue, Ensemble – Musical, Musical Direction and Lorenzo Rush, Jr. ,Performer)
Steppenwolf Theatre’s “Bug” received (Performer in a Principal Role for Carrie Coon, and technical awards for scenic and lighting design)
To hear which shows, actors, and everyone involved in equity theater productions ranging from choreographers to costume designers receive recognition by the Jeff Committee, tune into YouTube tonight, Nov. 9, 2020 at 7 p.m. CST for the 52nd annual excellence awards.
The nominees had a different time frame to qualify in this year of the Covid-19 pandemic. But there were still 30 artistic and technical categories. Please see CTAA Jeff Award Nominations.
Now that November is here, normally, (and what is normal anymore?) calendars are full of fall and early winter events. In the Chicago area that means many holiday activities and shows are usually available in person. Some of them are still taking place with timed tickets such as the Botanic Garden’s Lightscape and the Museum of Science and Industry’s Holiday Trees. More on those events next time. But other events will be presented differently this year. Here are a few suggestions.
Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park
Take a free tour of the Chicago Cultural Center or the art in Millennium Park.
The tours are offered virtually on demand by volunteers through the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Among stops at the 1897 Cultural Center is the Tiffany dome.
The Millennium Park tour includes work by Anish Kapoor and Kerry James Marshal. For more information and to sign up visit DCASEvolutuntours.
Drive or walk by theMART,
Art on theMart starts again Nov. 12. Among the scenes will be the Joffrey ballet’s images from “the Nutcracker,” and pictures from the Art Institujte of chicago’s M\”Monet and Chicago, “Bisa Butler’s Portraits and “
Arts of Life.
The images will on nightly at 7 and 7:30 through Dec. 30o. For more information visit artonthemart.com.
“It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago”
The American Blues Theater is bringing back its annual production. The classic show runs 80 minutes andcan be viewed virtually. However, it is live so there are specific times, dates and tickets.
“At American Blues, we miss so much of the experience of live theater, including its energy, social nature and ephemeral quality.,” said Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside
“This season, we will bring “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago”entirely live for every scheduled performance. We will also be interactive, bringing our popular audiograms to audience members during every performance.,” said. Whiteside. She added,” This year has been filled with so much uncertainty, but the one thing audiences can count on is the holiday tradition of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Based on Frank Capra’s film, it can be seen online Nov. 12 2020 through Jan. 2, 2021. For tickets and more information visit American Blues Theater.
Chicago’s theater community has come up with some interesting ways to present their shows for this COVID-directed 2020 holiday season.
The Joffrey Ballet is holding a one-time virtual look “behind the curtain” on the creation of the company’s famed “The Nutcracker” ballet. The event, held 3 p.m. Nov. 3, includes performance clips and interviews. Tickets are $25. for tickets and more information visit Joffrey/event.
“A Christmas Carol”
The perennial Goodman Theatre favorite will be an audio play streaming free, Dec. 1-31, 2020.
Directed by Jessica Thebus, the classic Charles Dickens holiday tale about compassion and redemption features Larry Yando in his 13th year as Ebenezer Scrooge.
“The notion of a holiday season without our production of “A Christmas Carol”—a favorite annual Chicago tradition for more than four decades—did not seem like an option in spite of the many challenges we face in producing live theater at this moment,” said Goodman Executive Director Roche Schulfer who initiated the production at the Goodman in 1978.
“At a time when this story is needed perhaps more than ever, we are pleased to offer this audio production free of charge as a gift to our city,” Schulfer said.
Manual Cinema’s holiday show created for 2020 features live shows performed in the Chicago studio on specific dates that viewers will see via a streaming digital format on Marquee TV, Dec. 2-20, 2020.
This version follows Aunt Trudy, a holiday skeptic who is supposed to channel her late husband Joe’s Christmas cheer from the isolation of her studio apartment. She reconstructs Joe’s annual “Christmas Carol” puppet show over Zoom while the family celebrates Christmas Eve under lockdown.
As Trudy becomes more absorbed in her own version of the story, the puppets take on a life of their own. The show turns into a cinematic retelling of the classic tale. For information and tickets (15) visit manualcineman. The event hosting and ticketing platform is mixily.com).
Yes, shows, conferences, etc. that go virtual have become a way of life that sometimes reaches maximum level of “go-away,” “don’t- bother-me” reactions. However, Neo Futurists, a small theater on Ashland Avenue that doesn’t go in for the usual stuff, is doing a show that theater goers will find a break from the political craziness clogging the airways.
The show, “45 Plays, 50 First Ladies,” a 100-minute take on who was in the White House besides the husbands, opens, Oct. 13, 2020 online.
Directed by Denise Yvette Serna and written by Chloe Johnston, Sharon Greene, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Bilal Dardai, and Andy Bayiates, it continues through Nov. 2, 2020.
With the pandemic still haunting the indoor entertainment scene, some show venues have taken their artistry to parks and parking lots.
Among them are Goodman Theatre which has been working with the Chicago Park District and Music Theater Works which has been using the parking lot of its new home, the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.
The longtime Evanston based production company formerly known as Light Opera Works, presents “Richard Rodgers’ Greatest Hits” Sept. 29, 2020 at 7 p.m. CT.
Divided into two parts of 15 numbers each, songs range from “I wish I were in love again” from Babes in Arms to “You’ll never walk alone” from Carousel.
The program is presented live in the Center’s rear parking lot, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie and then online from October 2-11. For tickets and more information visit MusicTheaterWorks/summerconcertencore.
The Goodman show, “Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak on It! featuring E. Faye Butler, is being performed in some Chicago parks. Directed by Henry Godinez and adapted from Cheryl L. West’s play “Fannie,” the show brings back famed civil and voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer through storytelling and music.
Currently, it is scheduled for the front of Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St., for 6 p.m. Oct. 1, Homan Square in North Lawndale at 3559 W. Arthington St. at 6 p.m. Oct. 2 and in Ellis Park at 3520 Cottage Grove Ave. in Bronzeville at 3 p.m. Oct. 3. The Ellis Park performance is sold out.
In this time of theaters going dark due to the pandemic, it’s nice to hear such familiar venue names as Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, Court, Chicago Shakespeare, TimeLine and Writers.
Those are the production companies with a play listed in the 2020 Equity Jeff Award Large Play Nomination category.
For Steppenwolf, it is “Bug,” Victory Gardens is “The First Deep Breath” and Court is “King Hedley.” For Chicago Shakespeare it is “The King’s Speech,” TimeLine is “Oslo” and Writers is “Stick Fly.”
Other production categories are Midsize Play, Musical or Revue Large, Musical Midsize, Ensemble Play, Ensemble Musical or Revue and New Work.
Nominations are also listed now for Director Large Play, Midsize Play, Large Musical or Revue and Midsize.
Performers are listed for principal and supporting roles in plays and musicals.
Jeff Award nominations are also out for Scenic Design, Lighting, Sound, Choreography, Costume, Original Music and Production Design.
Several companies received multiple nominations in a variety of categories. Drury Lane Productions topped the list at 22 followed by Paramount Theatre with 13 and Court Theatre, Porchlight Music Theatre and Steppenwolf Theatre Company with 11 nominations.
The Jeff Awards which have been recognizing outstanding theater artists and productions since established in 1968, will announce the 2020 Equity nominations Sept.15, 2020.
The date for the online Equity Awards, a program similar to the Non-Equity Awards presented in June, will also be announced on Sept. 15.
Eligibility is for productions staged from Aug. 1, 2019 through March 13, 2020.
“This season brought a wonderful range of stories and performances to Chicago stages. There is a lot to celebrate despite the pandemic and civil unrest that interrupted some openings and productions runs this spring and summer,” said Jeff Awards Chair John Glover.
“We are so fortunate to have so much creative recognition worthy work on Chicago states, so we knew that a show needed to go on this fall,” Glover said.
He added, “During these times, it is even more important to remember and promote the value that the arts bring to our lives and the vital role theater plays in opening ourselves up to a variety of perspectives.”
Normally we would be talking about what productions are coming this fall and winter to the Lyric Opera, Goodman, Chicago Shakespeare, Steppenwolf, Broadway in Chicago, Lookingglass, Northlight, Court, Music Works, Citadel and several other Chicago area theater stages.
And normally, what’s coming would be divided up by regions because in 2019 there were about 250 theater companies in the area.
Maybe when the coronavirus is under control and artists and patrons feel safe attending live rather than virtual shows, we will know which Chicago theater groups survived the pandemic.
But here is a sample of what we are hearing now about our next theater season.
Calling the season “Our Next Act,” Artistic Director Robert Falls and Executive Director Roche Schulfer announced that the Goodman Theatre would have eight plays in its 2021 subscription (membership) series when safe for everyone. That number doesn’t include “A Christmas Carol” which isn’t a subscription show but details on the popular holiday show are expected to be out soon.
“We’re proud to announce four exciting world premieres, including a Goodman commission – Cheryl L. West’s “Fannie.” Directed by Henry Godinez, it is a passionate rallying cry inspired by the life of famed civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer that features E. Faye Butler in the title role,” said Falls.
Another world premiere is “the ripple, the wave that carried me home” by Christina Anderson, a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre. “It is a stunning meditation on protest, legacy and reconciliation; and we’re delighted to welcome back Christina, whose bold, imaginative How to Catch Creation was a memorable favorite last year,” said Falls.
The third world premiere is “Good Night, Oscar” by Doug Wright, directed by Leigh Silverman and starring Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) as Oscar Levant.
Falls added, “Finally, we’ll produce the highly anticipated new musical we postponed due to COVID-19—”The Outsiders” based on the novel by S.E. Hinton and Francis Ford Coppola’s film. A beloved story of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ that defined a generation it is told anew.” (Book is by Adam Rapp, music and lyrics by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) and Justin Levine, choreography by Lorin Latarro and directed by Liesl Tommy.)
Three Chicago premiers include “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play” by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Lili-Anne Brown that was interrupted by the pandemic, “A Paris Love Story” featuring the Music of Claude DeBussy that is written and performed by Hershey Felder and directed by Trevor Hay and “American Mariachi” by José Cruz González, directed by Henry Godinez and is a coproduction with Dallas Theater Center.
In addition, Goodman will be doing “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman.
“We can’t wait to welcome back our audiences for our dynamic 2021 Season that exemplifies the very best of our art form,” said Falls. “As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of our artists and audiences, we remain flexible in our planning and will share production dates when the time is right.”
Subscription memberships to the upcoming season are available, including the “Whenever Membership” flexible package. A five-play Membership package starts at $100. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org/2021season. Single tickets will be available at a later date.
The Lyric will open a reimagined fall season with “For the Love of Lyric,” a virtual concert from the Lyric Opera House, that will be available for free streaming beginning at 5 p.m. CDT Sept. 13, 2020.
The event is in place of the opening night opera and ball, according to Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director, president and CEO. “…we are proud to present “For the Love of Lyric- a very special concert presentation available to the largest possible audience via streaming,” said Freud.
Renowned soprano Renee Fleming teams up with special guests including Tony and Grammy award-winner Heather Headley (Aida, Lion King), soprano Ailyn Perez, bass Soloman Howard and mezzo soprano J’Nai Bridges.
Formerly called Light Opera Works, Music Theatre Works is moving from its Evanston home at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium to the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, beginning with its 2021 season.
A 40-year-old, not-for-profit company that has produced several highly recommended shows, Music Theatre Works has basically honored the classics with great direction, voices and orchestrations that range from the best “Pirates of Penzance” and “Mame” that I have seen to what other CTA writers say is the best “Anything Goes” and “Into the Woods” that they have seen.
Administration and rehearsals will continue at the Paul S. Mavros Center and Joyce Saxon Rehearsal Hall.
The performance move to North Shore Center’s large and small venues means the organization can do more productions and have longer runs, better parking and more exposure.
“For 40 years, Music Theater Works has been a cornerstone of high-quality professional music theater in the Chicago area. Our history demonstrates our dedication to bringing great music and great theater to our audiences. The community along with the many artists, board members and staff have built the company to what it is today,” said Music Theater Works Producing Artistic Director Kyle A. Dougan.
“Music Theater Works’ move to its new performance home at the North Shore Center is a testament to our community’s support for our art. In addition, this outlet strengthens Music Theater Works’ pledge to explore the full spectrum of music theater with the availability of multiple performance spaces within the North Shore Center,” Dougan said.
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts General Manager Michael Pauken said, “It is very exciting to welcome this well-respected organization and its productions to the North Shore Center as I have long admired them as an audience member.”
Pauken added, “I know Music Theater Works’ customers will find the North Shore Center’s location near numerous restaurants, convenient access to public transportation and free parking to be an enhancement to their theatergoing experience and Music Theatre Works performers will enjoy ample backstage space and the technical capabilities of our facility.”
In advance of its formal move to the Center next year, Music Theater Works presented two sold out performances of “Richard Rodgers’ Greatest Hits,” August 28 and 29, as part of the North Shore Center’s outdoor concert series, “Out Back Summer Sessions.”
To celebrate its 10th anniversary Manual Cinema, a multi-award winning studio that creates unusual stage and video shows with puppets, actors and vintage projectors, has been rebroadcasting some of its hits during July and August but will also conclude with a spectacular show.
You can still catch “No Blue Memories: the Life of Gwendolyn Brooks Aug. 10-17 that will include talk back with creators, cast and crew on Aug. 15 at 8 p.m. and “Frankenstein Aug. 17-23 with talk back Aug. 21 at 8 p.m.( CT)
Then save Aug. 22 at 8 p.m. for the company’s live, retro variety show. It’s a “Tele-Fun-Draiser, Covid-Relief benefit. It will end with a new work that has shadow puppetry, cinematic aspects,, toy theater and creative sound. It can also be viewed by going back to Manual Cinema Watch or Manual Cinema.
Founded by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller and Kyle Vegter, Manual Cinema is unlike anything you may have seen in the theaters.