Defining Excellence in Theater. Drama League and Chita Rivera Awards. Week in NY Theater

The winners of the Drama League Awards and the Chita Rivera Awards were announced this past week (see results below), and the Obies will be held tonight.  But they and all the other awards this season prompt a question: How does one define excellence in theater?

“I’ve become increasingly convinced that as a field we do not have a cohesive definition of excellence,” writes Chad Bauman,  the managing director of Milwaukee Repertory Theater, in an article in American Theatre.

So he asked his colleagues across the country, and got some 50 responses – but the question he asked was about excellence in a theater as a whole (regional theaters in particular), not about individual shows. So the answers about excellence in individual shows didn’t get much more specific than “artistic quality.” All did agree that courage counts – such as not being afraid to play with form.

Four years ago, in an article titled Divining Artistic Excellence ,  theater artist and historian Lynne Connor pointed out that, while the concept of excellence can refer to something semi-tangible such as “the sophistication of a play’s dramatic arc,” more often people conflate excellence with taste, “something far less tangible and thus far less quantifiable.” And what determines taste? “Personal taste in everything from beer to Shakespeare comes about through a combination of biology, past experience, cultural norms, and individual predilections.”

She concludes: “We need to find productive ways to invite audiences of all tastes (and all economic and ethnic backgrounds) to join in the conversation about (the struggle over) meaning and value.”

Below: Summer theater festivals 2018.  A Sondheim show closing, and another opening. A new play about Gloria Steinem, a new musical about a Marilyn Monroe film. The new seasons at BAM, Atlantic, and City Center. Also: tapped out on Broadway, tripped up at Harry Potter.

The Week in New York Theater Awards

2018 Drama League Awards

Glenda Jackson in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women,

Musical: The Band’s Visit
Play: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2
Musical Revival: My Fair Lady
Play Revival: Angels in America
Distinguished Performance: Glenda Jackson


(2018 Drama League Award Nominations)


2018 Chita Rivera Awards

Ariana DeBoseas as “Disco Donna” in “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical”

Theater Awards
Outstanding Choreography in a Broadway Show
Sergio Trujillo, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical

Outstanding Ensemble in a Broadway Show ( a tie)
Mean Girls

Outstanding Male Dancer in a Broadway Show
Tony Yazbeck, Prince of Broadway

Outstanding Female Dancer in a Broadway Show
Ariana DeBose, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical

Outstanding Choreography in an Off-Broadway Show
Zach Morris & Jennine Willet, Ghost Light

Outstanding Female Dancer in an Off-Broadway Show
Monica Bill Barnes, One Night Only

Outstanding Male Dancer in an Off-Broadway Show
Robert Fairchild, Frankenstein

Theatrical Release
The Greatest Showman – Choreographed by Shannon Holtzapffel and Ashley Wallen

Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer – Directed by David Barba and James Pellerito

(2018 Chita Rivera Award nominations)

The Obie Awards

Livestreamed on their Twitter feed starting at 7 p.m. Monday, May 21


The Week in New York Theater Reviews

Our Lady of 121st Street

Somebody has stolen the dead nun’s body in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s 2002 play, revived as part of his Signature season. It is a production smartly cast and competently directed by Phylicia Rashad. The script exhibits some of Guirgis’s familiar street energy, full of harsh, foul-mouthed humor; it even touches on some of his usual themes (living with sorrow and regret; betrayal; spiritual redemption.) But “Our Lady of 121st Street” is less substantive and less satisfying than many of his other plays.

Maple and Vine

In the original 2011 production of Jordan Harrison’s prescient play, a married couple overwhelmed with the stresses and complications of their lives in the city, leave their high-powered jobs behind, as well as their lattes and laptops, for a simpler world – the one that existed in 1955. A cult has re-created the world of 1955 in a gated community in the Midwest.
In the 2018 revival of “Maple and Vine” at the Flea, the actors and the audience enter another world as well – the world of the deaf.

Luciy DeVito as pregnant Mary and Jenny O’Hara as the 18th century midwife in “Bump”


Bump, a play by Chiara Atik that is as entertaining as it is informative, intertwines three different threads about pregnancy and childbirth – the most surprising of which turns out to be based on a true story.


Now that the hard-working, good-looking students of Stanton High School in dreary Stanton, Pennsylvania have put on the musical “Spring Awakening”  in the season finale of “Rise,” it will be the last show they ever do. NBC has canceled the TV series. Lou Mazzuchelli, the drama teacher played by Josh Radnor, will disappear from your TV after only two months and ten episodes…Here’s more or less a recap of the series and the final episode. If the summary sounds like a soap opera, the low-key intelligence of the acting, writing and directing offers a different experience when watching the show…

The Week in New York Theater News

12 Summer theater festivals in NYC in 2018

The Play That Goes Wrong will close August 26, after 27 previews and 585 performances. Then it will go on national tour.

Siobhan McCarthy and Jeremy Secomb

The Tooting Arts Club production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street will play its final performance at the Barrow Street Theater on August 26, 2018. It opened March 1,2017

Gloria: A Life,” (@GloriaThePlay), a new play by Emily Mann about Gloria Steinem, will open October 18, produced by Daryl Roth at the Daryl Roth Theater. The all-female team behind it includes director Diane Paulus.

A new Merrily We Roll Along is coming Off-Broadway, opening in Feb at Laura Pels Theater. Fiasco Theater in collaboration with Roundabout will present the Sondheim/Furth musical w/ new material from the original George S. Kaufman/ Moss Hart play

A musical adaptation of The Secret Life of Bees, with book by Lynn Nottage (Sweat) and music by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) is one of six new shows in Atlantic Theater’s 2018-2019 season

Free performance of Runaways (the 2016 City Center #EncoreOffCenter production), June 12, the Public’s Delacorte Theater in Central Park

Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, October 3 to December 23
The Bacchae………………………….. SITI Company, Anne Bogart, Aaron Poochigian
Measure for Measure………………… Cheek by Jowl, Pushkin Drama Theatre,
Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod
Jack &………………………………….. Kaneza Schaal, Cornell Alston
Falling Out…………………………….. Phantom Limb Company
The Good Swimmer………………….. Heidi Rodewald, Donna Di Novelli, Kevin Newbury
The White Album…………………….. Early Morning Opera, Lars Jan, Joan Didion
NERVOUS/SYSTEM…………………. Andrew Schneider
Strange Window: The Turn of
the Screw………………………………. The Builders Association, Marianne Weems

Physical theater
Humans……………………………….. Circa, Yaron Lifschitz
Espæce……………………………….. Aurélien Bory, Compagnie 111

A new musical adaptation of the 1959 Marilyn Monroe film “Some Like It Hot” is aiming for Broadway in 2020, with  songs by Marc shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray) and book by Matthew Lopez (The Legend of Georgia McBride.)

In celebration of its 75th year, City Center will feature an Encores! season that includes: Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam, Rodgers & Hart’s I Married An Angel, Jules Styne’s High Button Shoes + Victoria Clark in Weill/Gershwin Lady in the Dark

The design of the aisles in the Lyric Theater, home of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,has caused audience members to trip and be injured,. (I also noted the trippable design, as well as poor management, in my review!)


Playwrights Say Never Again to School Shootings


Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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