A night set aside to celebrate two Broadway stars turned into a tour de force for one. Brian d’Arcy James, star of stage and screen (with his recent role in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight), delighted the capacity crowd at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on May 16 with his talent and kindness.

The annual Sarah Siddons Society Actor of the Year celebration included testimonials about the winners (d’Arcy James and actress Sutton Foster), the announcement of scholarship honorees, and a variety of music theater performances. But the night belonged to d’Arcy James, the 1990 School of Communication alumnus who graciously accepted his honor but also performed three numbers, including “Who I’d Be” from Shrek the Musical in place of Foster, who was unable to attend.

Barbara O’Keefe, dean of the School of Communication, acknowledged the good works of the Siddons Society, which bestows scholarships and “honors great actors for their career achievements, something we care a lot about.”

She heralded the “long and robust friendship” of the Society and Northwestern and talked about how happy she was that the University could co-host this year’s event and celebrate “two individuals with such deep roots in our community.”

D’Arcy James “is an alumnus, a four-year member of the Waa-Mu cast and crew, and someone who was featured in several plays and musicals … when he was a student here,” O’Keefe said. In addition, Foster recently had served as a visiting artist in the Department of Theatre.

While Foster wasn’t present, she sent along her thanks. It was “such an honor to be recognized in this way and to share this with my friend and colleague Brian d’Arcy James,” she wrote, calling it “humbling and truly an honor.”

Dominic Missimi, artistic director of the Siddons Society, emeritus professor of theatre, and a fixture in the Chicago music theater scene, offered his own high praise Monday night, saluting d’Arcy James as “a great artist.”

The primary mission of the Siddons Society is to raise money for deserving music theatre students at four Chicago-area schools: Columbia College, Roosevelt University, DePaul University, and Northwestern. But its annual award event is what brings in the crowds.

After performances from Northwestern theatre students and alumni, including former Siddons scholarship winners Christine Mild and Michael Mahler, theatre alumna Kate Baldwin took the stage to introduce d’Arcy James, whom she called “the nicest man in show business.”

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