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Theatre at the Center garners 8 Jeff Award nominations, including nods to Mercury's 'Cash'

August 31, 2015 at 8:01 AM

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Theatre at the Center in Munster earned eight nominations in Jeff Award categories for recognizing stage excellence, as announced this month.

Chicago stage, TV and film star Michael Shannon did the nominees announcement for the 2014-2015 Equity Jeff Awards on Friday, Aug. 21. A video of the presentation is also posted at

Collette Todd earned a nomination for "Actress in a Supporting Role -- Musical" for "Big Fish" at Theatre the Center last Spring. Danny Herman netted a nomination for "Choreography" for "All Shook Up," which just closed a summer run at Theatre at the Center on Aug. 16.

The other six nominations for Theatre at the Center are the shared nominations with Mercury Theatre, which is currently in a run of "Ring of Fire, The Music of Johnny Cash," the musical revue first seen by Munster audiences last year and then relaunched for Chicago audiences at Mercury Theatre.

All in all, six world premiere plays, three world premiere musicals, and three new adaptations seen first by Chicago audiences, were among those receiving Jeff nominations by the Jeff Awards Committee. There are a total of 187 nominations in 36 categories honoring Chicago Equity theatrical productions that opened between Aug. 1, 2014 and July 31, 2015.

In its first year of Jeff Awards eligibility, Paramount Theatre led all theaters with 16 nominations, all for musicals in the Large Theatre category. "Les Misérables" and the rock opera "The Who's Tommy" received six each, and "Mary Poppins" garnered four. Drury Lane Productions received 13 nominations, including five for "Billy Elliot, the Musical," and three each for "Camelot" and "West Side Story." The Marriott Theatre had 12 nominations, with five for "The King and I" and three for "City of Angels."

Nominations for plays at Large Theaters were led by Steppenwolf Theatre Company with 12, divided as five for "Airline Highway," and four for "Marie Antoinette." Chicago Shakespeare Theater received 11 nominations, including four for its new musical "Sense and Sensibility."

Midsize theaters were well represented by Porchlight Music Theatre with 11 nominations, five for the musical revue "Sondheim on Sondheim" and three each for musicals "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." Mercury Theater Chicago, besides the six shared nominations for "Ring of Fire," also netted about three for the musical "The Addams Family." In its first season as an Equity theater, The Hypocrites received nine nominations, eight were for "All Our Tragic," an epic 12-hour adaptation of the 32 surviving Greek tragedies.

For the coveted Ensemble category, the Jeff Awards Committee nominated eight productions: Steppenwolf Theatre Company's "Airline Highway," about the denizens of a faltering motel outside of New Orleans (which transferred intact to Broadway); The Hypocrites' "All Our Tragic," Sean Graney's contemporary mashup of the Greek tragedies; TimeLine Theatre Company's "The Apple Family Plays," two of Richard Nelson's plays about a family's dinner table gatherings through the years; "The Humans" at American Theater Company, portraying a family's implosion; the docu-drama "The Project(s)," also at American Theater Company, recounting the rise and fall of the Chicago public housing projects; "A Q Brothers' Christmas Carol" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, a hip-hop version of the holiday classic; The House Theatre of Chicago's "Season On The Line," about a struggling theater trying to mount the year's plays; and "The White Road" at Irish Theatre of Chicago, about a thrilling and treacherous expedition to Antarctica. Actors' Equity Association supports the Equity Jeff Awards by sponsoring the Ensemble Award.

New Work and New Adaptation nominations recognized plays that had their world premieres in Chicago. New Work nominations went to Bruce Graham for "White Guy on the Bus" at Northlight Theatre, a complex and explosive examination of race, intent and racial biases; Laura Jacqmin for Rivendell Theatre Ensemble's" "Look, we are breathing," three women's reflections on their conflicted emotions over the death of a teen; Rohina Malik for "The Mecca Tales" at Chicago Dramatists, the personal journeys of five American Muslim women during a pilgrimage to Mecca; the late PJ Paparelli and Joshua Jaeger for their provocative examination of Chicago public housing in "The Project(s)" at American Theatre Company; Caitlin Parrish for "The Downpour" at Route 66 Theatre Company, a thriller about two sisters dealing with the legacy of their traumatic childhood; and Mat Smart for "The Royal Society of Antarctica" at The Gift Theatre, the tale of a young woman at a remote Antarctica facility searching for answers to her mother's disappearance.

New Work Musical nominations went to Paul Gordon for "Sense and Sensibility" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, a moving chamber piece based on the Jane Austen novel; GQ, JQ, Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle for "A Q Brothers' Christmas Carol," their hip-hop take on Charles Dickens' classic story, also at Chicago Shakespeare Theater; and Jessica Thebus, Andre Pluess and Amanda Dehnert for Northlight Theatre's "Shining Lives: A Musical," a heart-rending portrait of the lives of young women poisoned while working at Chicago's Radium Dial Company in the 1920's.

New Adaptation nominations went to David Catlin for his dynamic reinvention of Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" at Lookingglass Theatre Company in association with The Actors' Gymnasium; to Sean Graney for his epic Greek tragedies marathon "All Our Tragic" at The Hypocrites; and to Nambi E. Kelley for her intense distillation of Richard Wright's "Native Son" presented by Court Theatre and American Blues Theater.

During the 2014-15 season, Jeff Awards judges attended opening nights of 149 Equity productions offered by 61 producing organizations, and from these openings, 112 productions were "Jeff Recommended" and eligible for award nominations.

The 47th Annual Equity Jeff Awards Ceremony honoring excellence in professional theater produced within the immediate Chicago area is Monday, Oct. 5 at Drury Lane Oakbrook, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. Emceeing the festivities are multi-talented award winning performers Cheryl Lynn Bruce and E. Faye Butler.

Performances featuring cast members from nominated musicals and revues and video segments from nominated plays will highlight the Oct. 5 ceremony. Pre-show appetizers and cash bar are offered from 6 to 7:30 p.m., followed by the awards ceremony, directed by Michael Weber, and a lavish buffet reception immediately thereafter.

Advance purchase tickets, which include the ceremony and pre- and post-show parties, are $75 ($55 for members of Actors' Equity Association, United Scenic Artists, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, Stage Managers' Association, The Dramatists Guild of America, and American Federation of Musicians). The evening is black tie optional and the public is invited to attend. To purchase tickets, visit the Jeff Awards website at For more information, contact Jeff Equity Chair Merril Prager at equitywing(at)

The Jeff Awards has been honoring outstanding theater artists annually since it was established in 1968. With up to 55 members representing a wide variety of backgrounds in theatre, the Jeff Awards Committee is committed to celebrating the vitality of Chicago area theater by recognizing excellence through its recommendations, awards, and honors. The Jeff Awards fosters the artistic growth of area theaters and theater artists and promotes educational opportunities, audience appreciation, and civic pride in the achievements of the theater community. Each year, the Jeff Awards Committee evaluates over 250 theatrical productions and holds two awards ceremonies. Originally chartered to recognize only Equity productions, the Jeff Awards Non-Equity Wing was established in 1973 to celebrate outstanding achievement in non-union theater.