Porchlight Music Theatre took home four Jeff Awards for Ragtime.
My take on the Joseph Jefferson Awards, which happened last night at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, is that the ceremony is pretty boring unless you are 1. a nominee; 2. an actor who was in or a person who worked on a nominated show; or 3. drunk. I drew my third conclusion from the mob scenes around the Grey Goose vodka free-martini bar, at which two bartendresses languidly shook cocktails for the restless throng, and the cash bar, where I found Jeff Award-nominee Jason Loewith standing with veteran actor Mary Ann Thebus. (I think Thebus was actually just passing through the line, searching for her daughter Jessica Thebus, the director.) Loewith, the artistic director of the Next Theatre Company in Evanston, was nominated with Joshua Schmidt for their new musical, The Adding Machine. They won! August: Osage County, the searing new play by Tracy Letts now on its way to Broadway, swept with six awards, and, among the awards for musicals, Porchlight Music Theatre took home five, four for its revival of Ragtime. Around the midpoint, I ducked out of the ceremony and stood around the photo-and-interview area asking random questions of newly-anointed Jeff Award-winners. A couple of sample exchanges:
JT (Me): Erica, I just want to say that August: Osage County is a triumph of ensemble acting.
Erica Daniels, the casting director of Steppenwolf Theater, who collected the 2006-07 award for best ensemble: And, here I am holding the Jeff Award for ensemble. It’s like you knew something.
JT: It was fantastic; I’m not joking.
ED: It was one of those things that magically came together because it really wasn’t cast until a week before we went into rehearsal. A couple actors got films but things just work out for a reason.
JT: I read a story about the coaxing you had to do with Deanna Dunagan [who plays Violet, the surly, pill-popping matriarch in August: Osage County.]
ED: She said no for a month and a half. She kept saying no and I kept calling every two weeks. Basically, I said, “No is not the answer I wanted.” . . . I finally said to Deanna, “If you can’t do this role nobody can because no movie star is going to be able to do this vocally, physically eight days a week.” I was, like, you’re going to regret this for the rest of your life if you pass on this, and I think it was maybe that sentence.
JT: What part of the role do you think stretched her as an actor?
ED: I think it really is an emotionally dark place to go every night. It’s hard to go there every night. Then there’s the vocal strain, and the smoking eight shows a week. And, there’s the stairs. I think it would be a challenge for anyone to negotiate those stairs in the little heels she’s wearing. But I do think it’s a hard place to go emotionally. Violet is not a nice person.
* * *
JT: Congratulations on your baby!
Lance Stuart Baker, actor and co-winner of the Jeff Award for solo performance (in a “statistical tie,” Matt Sax also won for his one-man hip-hop show, Clay.): Thank you very much. Oh, yes, I have a baby. He is one year, one month, and two and a half weeks.
JT: Really? It seems like you just had the baby.
LB: Everyone says that and yet he is huge.
LB: Yes. He is ginormous. He’s off the charts.
Photography: Jennifer Tanaka