News Column

Oak Brook theater leads suburban pack [Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)]

November 5, 2013


First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook bested its suburban competition, picking up two 2013 Joseph Jefferson Awards for its acclaimed revival of Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" during Monday's ceremony honoring excellence in Chicago-area equity theater.

First Folio co-founder David Rice earned honors for adaptation. He and Michael Keefe won for original music.

"I love Chicago theater," exclaimed Rice, who accepted the adaptation award by thanking Keefe and director Michael Goldberg, "who helped me avoid potholes that could have swallowed this production whole."

Rice also thanked his wife, First Folio artistic director Alison Vesely and their daughter Haley, for encouraging him to begin writing again.

"If he hadn't trusted me, this wouldn't have happened," said Keefe, referring to Rice, as he accepted the original music award. Keefe also praised Goldberg for transforming "a little play with some music to a full-fledged musical."

No single production dominated the awards, which saw perennial favorites Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire and Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace shut out in most major musical categories. The exceptions were Christine Sherrill, who received a principal actress in a musical award for her performance as aging film star Norma Desmond in Drury Lane's "Sunset Boulevard," and Bethany Thomas, who earned a supporting actress nod for her performance as Bloody Mary in Marriott's "South Pacific."

"I am overcome with joy," Thomas said.

For best performance in a revue, the Jeff Committee recognized David M. Lutken, Woody Guthrie in "Woody Sez" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. Accepting his award, Lutken quoted Guthrie saying "I think back on my life to everyone I owe ... the among that we owe is all that we have."

William Brown, who helmed "The Liar" at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, was named best director.

Brown thanked the city he has called home for 32 years saying, "it has afforded me theatrical opportunities I could not have had anywhere else in the world."

Michael Shannon, Academy Award nominee and member of A Red Orchid Theater in Chicago, was recognized as principal actor in a play for his role in "Simpatico."

Shannon praised co-star and fellow nominee Guy Van Swearingen, who he called his mentor.

"He's the reason I'm here tonight because 20 years ago he opened the space," Shannon said of the man who's been like a brother to him for 20 years.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater received a leading seven awards, three for the beautifully sung revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George," which was named best musical. It also earned Gary Griffin a directing award and Mike Tutaj the award for projections/media design.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater's "The School for Lies" earned awards for costume designer Susan E. Mickey and wig and makeup designer Melissa Veal. The Q Brothers' "Othello: The Remix," a coproduction with Richard Jordan Productions, picked up the Jeff for best ensemble and for James Savage's sound design.

Porchlight Music Theatre's "A Class Act" was named best musical from a midsize theater, with actor Bill Larkin taking home a Jeff as principal actor in a musical. Porchlight, in Chicago, earned four awards, including one for Callie Johnson's cameo in "Pal Joey" and one for solo performer Alexis J. Rogers, who channeled Billie Holiday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill."

Goodman Theatre's spectacular "The Jungle Book," produced with Huntington Theatre Company, earned awards for music director Doug Peck, who called the show "a peak life and artistic experience" and supporting actor Andre de Shields, who praised Chicago as a "font of healing in theater."

"I am a recovering artist. Whenever I need rehabilitation, I come to Chicago," said the dapper de Shields who began his career here in 1969.

"When it comes to taking a risk, when it comes to mastering the craft, when it comes to honing the skills that are at the heart of theater, there's no place like Chicago."

Steppenwolf Theatre's revival of David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People" won for best large company play and for principal actress Mariann Mayberry. David Gallo's impressive set for Steppenwolf's "Head of Passes" won for scenic design in a large production.

Receiving three awards was Chicago's TimeLine Theatre, whose "33 Variations," Moises Kaufman's drama about a 21st century musicologist researching Beethoven's masterworks, was named best midsize play. Raymond Fox received a supporting actor award for his performance in TimeLine's "Blood and Gifts," while lighting designer Brian Sidney Bembridge earned a Jeff for his work on "Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West."

Chicago character actor Dale Benson received the lifetime achievement award for his 50 years in Chicago-area theater.

Described as the "ruling king of comedy. the idol of the character who always gets the laugh but never gets the girl, an emotional Benson was greeted with a standing ovation.

Cracking wise, he recalled past productions and thanked the community, including the 16 colleagues who serenaded him with "Make 'Em Laugh,"

"I had no idea all of this was going to happen," he said, adding, "if you're standing please sit."

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