Outside all the prizes given to Broadway shows and artists, the Tony folks also hand out a "regional" Tony, presented to a theater outside New York chosen as that year's Outstanding Regional Theatre. The American Theater Critics Association, of which I am a member, considers and recommends a theater for this award every year.
Chicago theaters have been the recipients of this award five times, with Steppenwolf (1985), the Goodman (1992), Victory Gardens (2001), Chicago Shakespeare (2008), and now Lookingglass all singled out for the honor. That puts Chicago at the top of the list when it comes to Regional Tonys.
The fact that Chicago theaters are so often honored shows not only that Chicago is a great theater town, but also that its major theaters have staked out very individual identities, making each one stand out clearly for its own special vision and theatrical process.
Lookingglass, this year's winner, has mastered the art of visual theater, often using movement, dance, acrobatics, color, bold strokes and dramatic stage pictures to tell its stories. Those stories often seem to be mythic or fantastical in origin, with new adaptations of "The Arabian Nights," "Metamorphoses" and "Alice in Wonderland" (their "Lookingglass Alice") among their most popular pieces.
Lookingglass got started in 1988, the brainchild of Northwestern grads, including David Schwimmer of TV's "Friends" and Mary Zimmerman, the director/playwright/genius behind "Metamorphoses." The first Lookingglass production was "Through the Looking Glass," performed in a room on Northwestern's campus, but by the next year, Lookingglass was successful enough to earn four Jeff citations, including Original Music, Choreography, Ensemble, and Direction for "The Odyssey."
Since 2003, Lookingglass has performed its shows in a theater carved into Chicago's historic Water Tower Water Works on Michigan Avenue. Their theater seats only 270 people at its most accommodating, which means every seat is up-close-and-personal when its works are performed.
Lookingglass has definitely carved out a place for itself on the Chicago theater landscape, and this Tony Award is much-deserved for its striking, spectacular contributions to American theater in general.