Livin’ sure wasn’t easy this summertime when Court Theatre had to add 16 extra performances to its summer production of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, which premiered on May 31, to accommodate the production’s unprecedented popularity.
But the show’s sold-out success culminated in something even greater on November 7 as Court picked up two Jeff Awards, Chicago’s most prestigious theater honor, at the 43rd Annual Equity Joseph Jefferson Awards in Oak Brook, IL.
Court’s artistic director and director of the show Charles Newell won for Best Director of a Musical, and the show’s musical director Doug Peck won Musical Direction. Porgy and Bess was also nominated for three other awards, including Best Large Musical Production and Best Supporting Actor and Actress.
“It was especially affirming to have such a success, and I am just so proud of our production,” said Newell.
The Gershwin opera, set in the fictional Catfish Row, South Carolina, tells the story of the black beggar Porgy and his attempts to rescue Bess from a possessive lover and drug dealer. The entire production process spanned four years and extended far beyond the Court stage, as Newell and Peck utilized resources from as close as the University to as far as the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina. Court also collaborated with many South Side Chicago institutions such as the DuSable Museum, which presented an exhibit about the history and controversy behind Porgy and Bess, and Doc Films, which screened a series focusing on African-Americans in Hollywood. The production also visited numerous churches in Morgan Park to explore the exuberance of spiritual worship. According to Newell, “It was an extraordinary combination of partnerships with the community.”
The Jeff Awards, sometimes referred to as Chicago’s version of the Tonys, are presented annually in recognition of local Chicago theater talent.
“To be recognized along with such major artists in the musical theater world was great, but…to have my name announced to win an award was a topper to an already amazing spiritual journey,” said Newell.
Along with the two wins received by Newell and Peck, Court garnered 10 other nominations. As for future seasons, Newell said, “We just hope that we’ll continue to be worthy of this kind of acclaim.”