When the Paramount Theatre in Aurora began producing its own musicals, the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee deemed the theater ineligible, on the grounds that Aurora was too far from the city of Chicago. But the Jeff Committee was pressured to change its rules and relented last year. The decision was bad news for the competition. In its first season of eligibility, the Paramount led all other theaters in 2014-15 Jeff Award nominations for Chicago-area Equity productions, snagging a sweet 16 of the nominations announced Friday.
The long-established Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace followed with 13 nominations, with Rachel Rockwell's production of "Billy Elliot, the Musical" dancing off with five.
Steppenwolf Theatre — which has a spotty record of Jeff nominations — scored a dozen nods this year, with the Broadway-bound play "Airline Highway" nominated in five categories. Chicago Shakespeare Theater also did well, especially with its new musical, "Sense and Sensibility."
Among smaller and midsize companies, The Hypocrites (newly transferred from the non-Equity Jeffs) did well, as did the perennial Jeff Committee favorite Porchlight Music Theatre and Mercury Theater Chicago. The Hypocrites' "All Our Tragic," given eight nominations, did better than any other single production. The Goodman Theatre only managed that number for its entire season.
Other shows especially admired by the all-volunteer committee include "The Diary of Anne Frank" at Writers Theatre, "The Little Foxes" at Goodman Theatre, "Moby Dick" at Lookingglass Theatre and "Native Son" at Court Theatre.
Along with Paramount's "Les Miserables," "The Who's Tommy" and "Mary Poppins," the Jeff Committee also admired "City of Angels" and "The King and I" at the Marriott Theatre, "Billy Elliot" at Drury Lane, "The Adams Family" at the Mercury, and Porchlight's versions of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and "Sweeney Todd."
Among actors, both Francis Guinan and Jerod Haynes were nominated twice in the actor in a principal role category, with Kate Buddeke equaling that achievement in the category of actress in a supporting role. Larry Yando also scored a double. In fact, the Jeffs liked a lot of performances this year; the category of actress in a principal role-play contains eight nominees.
This is the 47th season of Jeff nominations. The annual ceremony, hosted by Cheryl Lynn Bruce and E. Faye Butler, is scheduled for Oct. 5 at the Drury Lane, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace.