They have been called the “first couple of Chicago theater” and Chicago’s version of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.
On Oct. 5, however, John Reeger and Paula Scrofano, of Riverside, will be called the recipients of the 2015 Equity Special Award at the annual Jeff Awards ceremony at Drury Lane Oakbrook in Oakbrook Terrace.
The Joseph Jefferson Committee is recognizing Reeger and Scrofano for their “theatrical career contributions to the Chicago theater scene over the past five decades,” according to a press release.
“We were very surprised and humbled,” Scrofano said. “But we received a lot of positive feedback from people in the business who feel it’s deserved.”
Reeger shared credit for their success and longevity with the Chicago theater scene, which he said “just kept expanding” over their careers here.
“It’s a great place to work,” he added.
They met as freshmen in a drama class at Northwestern University in 1969 and married two years later. Scrofano performs primarily in musicals and Reeger in plays although they have appeared together in 48 productions, nearly a third of the more than 150 shows in which each of them has appeared, the majority in Chicago.
Reeger and Scrofano are proud to call themselves Riverside residents, living in the village for 30 years.
“We like the small-town feel of Riverside,” Scrofano said. “It’s been a great place to raise kids. You can say ‘Go ride your bike’ and not have to worry.”
“We felt comfortable right away,” Reeger added, noting they shop locally and are involved with St. Mary parish in the village.
“We’re pretty normal neighbors,” Scrofano said.
They also are proud to call themselves parents, noting they were mom and dad first and actors second. Even when they performed together, there was no shoptalk at home.
“For us, it was important to wake up in our own home, have breakfast with the kids, take them to school and have dinner together,” Reeger said. “Working in Chicago made all that possible.”
Their two children, Adam and Alison, attended Central School, Hauser Junior High School and Riverside-Brookfield High School. Both married their high school sweethearts and are living out of state. Adam is pursuing a doctoral degree and Alison is a successful young adult author, having published three books as A.R. Cook.
Reeger and Scrofano, who have based their professional careers in Chicago since 1974, have each received numerous Jeff Award nominations, with Scrofano winning twice as principal actress and Reeger once as principal actor.
Reeger also wrote the award-winning musical, The Christmas Schooner, which has been performed in Chicago and elsewhere since 1996 and will open its fifth season at the Mercury Theater in Chicago.
Neither is currently performing on stage, although Reeger is preparing for the January debut of a new musical murder mystery that he wrote, The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes, at the Mercury Theater.
He explained that the project, which has been in the works for years, is another collaboration with Julie Shannon, who wrote the music and lyrics for The Christmas Schooner, but died in 2012.
“My feeling is I’m retired,” Scrofano said. “I’ve been kind of struggling to find roles.
“But if something came up for John and I, it would be intriguing.”
Reeger and Scrofano said they were not tempted to pursue acting careers in Hollywood or New York, preferring to stay in Chicago.
“Chicago suited our personality,” Reeger said. “And we didn’t have to leave town to find work.”
“We didn’t want to be stars,” Scrofano said.” We wanted a home, a family and a garden. And we got it!”