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‘The Hairy Ape,’ ‘Rent,’ ‘Byhalia, Mississippi’ top Non-Equity Jeff Awards

Written by
Kris Vire

Oracle Theatre’s reimagined staging of Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape, Theo Ubique’s small-scale revival of the musical Rent and The New Colony and Definition Theatre Company’s coproduction of Evan Linder’s new play Byhalia, Mississippi each took home multiple honors at tonight’s 43rd annual Non-Equity Jeff Awards ceremony.

They were among just a handful of productions to win in more than one category, as the awards were spread across a broad selection of 16 shows. Griffin Theatre Company’s London Wall was named best production of a play, with Theo Ubique’s Rent best musical or revue; both shows also earned awards for their respective directors, Robin Witt and Scott Weinstein. The award for ensemble was a tie, split between Steep Theatre Company’s Posh and Raven Theatre’s Direct from Death Row the Scottsboro Boys. Linder’s Byhalia was named best new work, while the non-competitive new adaptation award went to both Elizabeth Lovelady’s D.O.A. at Strawdog Theatre Company and Christina Calvit’s Miss Buncle’s Book at Lifeline Theatre.

A special award was presented to director Kimberly Senior, who’s soon to relocate to New York, for two decades of advocating for emerging artists in Chicago. The award was presented by Jeff committee chair David Liesse along with Senior’s fellow directors Jason Gerace, Keira Fromm, Joanie Schultz and Damon Kiely.

Schultz remembered being new to the city and working as a receptionist at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Senior, she recalled, “actually, literally said to me, ‘Young female director! Let me take you under my wing.’” Gerace said, “She hasn’t just left doors open for me, she’s kicked doors down for me.”

In a characteristically lovely and encouraging acceptance speech, Senior spoke of the “whispers of quiet confidence” that have meant the most to her and that she hopes to pass on. “Listen for it when there’s a door that needs to be knocked down, kicked in, a door that you feel is closed to you because of your gender, your age, your race, your religion. And when that door opens, because it’s gonna open, hold it open,” she said. “You can’t separate the words Chicago and theater and community.”

As is the nature of theater in Chicago, none of the nominated shows is still running. But three of tonight’s winners are set to return this summer: Raven Theatre remounts Direct from Death Row the Scottsboro Boys July 23–August 21, Oracle’s The Hairy Ape will be remounted as part of the Theater on the Lake season July 6–17, and Byhalia, Mississippi’s cast and crew will reunite as part of the first wave of programming in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s new 1700 Theatre, July 22–August 21.

The complete list of winners follows. Up next: the 48th annual Equity Jeff Awards, Monday, October 17.

London Wall—Griffin Theatre Company

Production—Musical or Revue
Rent—Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

Posh—Steep Theatre Company
Direct from Death Row The Scottsboro Boys—Raven Theatre

Robin Witt—London Wall—Griffin Theatre Company

Director—Musical or revue
Scott Weinstein—Rent—Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

Actor in a Principal Role—Play
Julian Parker (Yank)—The Hairy Ape—Oracle Theatre

Actor in a Principal Role—Musical
Quinton Guyton (Mama)—Lawd the CVS is Burning…A Gospel Musical Stage Play—MPAACT

Actress in a Principal Role—Play
Amanda Drinkall (May)—Last Train to Nibroc—Haven Theatre

Actress in a Principal Role—Musical
Courtney Mack (Veronica)—Heathers: The Musical—Kokandy Productions

Actor in a Supporting Role—Play
JP Pierson (Mendy)—The Lisbon Traviata—Eclipse Theatre Company

Actor in a Supporting Role—Musical or Revue
Aubrey McGrath (Angel)—Rent—Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

Actress in a Supporting Role—Play
Cecelia Wingate (Celeste)—Byhalia, Mississippi—The New Colony and Definition Theatre Company

Actress in a Supporting Role—Musical or Revue
Amanda Horvath (Sara)—Murder Ballad—Bailiwick Chicago

Solo Performance
Anna Dauzvardis (April, et al.)—Liberty City—eta Creative Arts Foundation

New Work
Evan Linder—Byhalia, Mississippi—The New Colony and Definition Theatre Company

New Adaptation
Elizabeth Lovelady—D.O.A.—Strawdog Theatre Company
Christina Calvit—Miss Buncle's Book—Lifeline Theatre

Sawyer Smith—Heathers: The Musical—Kokandy Productions

Original Music in a Play
Danny Rockett—How to Explain the History of Communism to Mental Patients—Trap Door Theatre

Music Direction
Jeremy Ramey—Rent—Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

Scenic Design
John Wilson—Byhalia, Mississippi—The New Colony and Definition Theatre Company

Lighting Design
Charles Cooper—Murder Ballad—Bailiwick Chicago

Costume Design
John Nasca—Design for Living—Pride Films and Plays

Sound Design
Jeffrey Levin—The Hairy Ape—Oracle Theatre

Artistic Specialization
Breon Arzell—Step Master—The Hairy Ape—Oracle Theatre

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