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August: Osage County Tops Chicago's Jeff Awards logo
Deanna Dunagan in August: Osage County
(© Michael Brosilow)
Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of August: Osage County was the big winner at the 39th annual Joseph Jefferson Awards, presented October 29 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. The world premiere by Steppenwolf Ensemble member Tracy Letts picked up six Jeff Awards: Production-Play, Ensemble, New Work, Direction-Play (Anna D. Shapiro), Scenic Design (Todd Rosenthal) and Principal Actress-Play (Deanna Dunagan). Letts' sprawling and sardonic three-act family drama closed Steppenwolf's 2006-2007 subscription season last summer. The complete original production is currently in previews in New York for a late-November Broadway opening.

The top winner among musical categories was Ragtime, presented by Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago, a smaller troupe wielding great artistic heft. First presented last spring in a 150-seat venue, Ragtime transferred to the 450-seat Apollo Theater for an extended summer run. The show received Jeff Awards for Production-Musical, Director-Musical (L. Walter Stearns), Music Direction (Eugene Dizon) and Supporting Actor-Musical (Aaron Graham). Porchlight's production of Assassins also won a Jeff Award, Supporting Actress-Musical (Sara R. Sevigny).

Mirror of the Invisible World at the Goodman Theatre -- a remount (after 10 years) of a highly evocative project adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman from classical Persian romantic literature -- won Jeffs for Costume Design (Mara Blumenfeld), Lighting Design (John Culbert), and live Original Music (Michael Bodeen). Separately, Tony Award winner Zimmerman also won a Jeff Award for Argonautika: The Voyage of Jason and the Argonauts, her rollicking rendition of Greek mythology produced by Lookingglass Theatre Company. The All Night Strut, at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, won Jeff Awards for Production-Revue, Direction-Revue (Marc Robbin) and Choreography (Robbin, Beverly Durand, Mark Stuart Eckstein, Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi and Sasha Vargas). The Marriott Theatre is Chicago's largest venue for locally-produced musical fare with over 30,000 subscribers.

The remainder of the 32 Jefferson Awards was divided among 11 theaters large and small for 13 different productions. Top acting honors not already mentioned included: Principal Actor-Play to Ben Carlson for Hamlet, Chicago Shakespeare Theater; Principal Actor-Musical to David Hess for Shenandoah, Marriott Theatre; Principal Actress-Musical to Ernestine Jackson in Raisin, Court Theatre; Actor-Revue to "Mississippi" Charles Bevel for Fire on the Mountain, Northlight Theatre; and Actress-Revue to Molly Andrews for Fire on the Mountain, Northlight Theatre. A Special Jefferson Award was given to Jackie Taylor, founder and executive director of the 31-year old Black Ensemble Theater.

The 39th annual Joseph Jefferson Awards honored 122 nominees from Equity theatrical productions which opened between August 1, 2006, and July 31, 2007. They are named after 19th-century actor-manager Joseph Jefferson II who first brought professional theater to the "wild west" of Chicago in the 1830's. The Jeff Awards gala featured scenes and musical numbers from 14 nominated productions. Michael Weber directed the ceremony and Jefferson Committee member Diane Hires produced the event.

For a complete list of winners and nominees, click here.

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