The trickiest of theater seasons has led to an unusual – and instructive — awards season. With both the Tony nominations and the Pulitzer Prize in Drama announced on the same day (has that ever happened before?) we are now almost halfway through the major New York theater awards. While theater lovers will have a full month (until the 75th Tony Awards ceremony on June 12th) to analyze and predict, I see five takeaways from the nominations and awards announced so far:
- Broadway isn’t everything.
Broadway gets the attention, not least because they have the money for marketing.
But the winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize in Drama, “Fat Ham,” debuted as a digital production last year by the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia; it hasn’t even opened yet in New York, and when it does so later this month, it will be Off-Broadway. The two Pulitzer finalists were also Off-Broadway, as were a third of the winners of the Theatre World Awards and of course all the nominees for the two annual Off-Broadway awards.
2. Star power isn’t everything…but it’s something.
Yes, some familiar stars were honored with nominations – Billy Crystal, Sutton Foster, Hugh Jackman, LaChanze, Patti LuPone, Ruth Negga, Mary-Louise Parker, Phylicia Rashad. But others, even more famous — Daniel Craig, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick – were not.
One of the undeniable pleasures of a Broadway season is the minting of new stars. However they fare at the Tonys, some nominated performers feel like stars in the making: Jaquel Spivey in A Strange Loop, Myles Frost in MJ, Joaquina Kalukango in Paradise Square, Jared Grimes in Funny Girl, Gabby Beans in The Skin of Our Teeth. And then there are two who are already stars by any measure except fame, who greatly deserve the new recognition: Sharon D Clark and Deirdre O’Connell
3. This was a season of inclusion
There were eleven plays and musicals on Broadway this season written by Black playwrights or librettists, which (as my colleague Jan Simpson has pointed out) is more than the five previous seasons combined. How they fared in terms of award recognition offers some sharp contrasts. Six of those shows have been nominated in a Best category; two each for Best Play (Clyde’s, Skeleton Crew), Best Musical (MJ, A Strange Loop, both of which received the greatest number of nominations overall, at 10 and 11 respectively) and Best Revival of a Play (for colored girls, Trouble in Mind.) On the other hand, three of those shows (Chicken and Biscuits, Pass Over and Thoughts of a Colored Man) were among the five eligible shows that received no nominations at all. (Ruben Santiago-Hudson was nominated for leading actor for Lackawanna Blues, its only nomination; the return of “Slave Play” was not eligible, having been nominated for 12 awards, and receiving none, the previous season.)
The Tony nominators took a broad approach to inclusion, nominating 29 of the 34 eligible shows.
4. This was a season of ensembles.
A large number of Broadway shows this season were driven by ensemble acting – the six Thoughts of “A Strange Loop” and the six Queens of “Six,” the seven ladies of the rainbow (Lady in Blue, Lady in Orange…) in “for colored girls…” and the seven men of emotion (Anger, Happiness, Lust) in “Thoughts Of A Colored Man,” as well as the three actors who portrayed 164 years worth of men, women and children in “The Lehman Trilogy,” and arguably the baseball team players in “Take Me Out,” and the women of “POTUS.” Without a Tony category for Best Ensemble (which the Lucille Lortel Awards do have, by the way), the Tony nominators didn’t know what to do about this. So they shut out the casts of “Six” and “Thoughts of A Colored Man,” which is a shame. And they nominated all three actors in “The Lehman Trilogy” for leading actor in a play (and expanded the category to seven nominees), and three actors from “Take Me Out” in featured actor in a play – so these castmates wind up competing with one another, which doesn’t seem right. ‘
5. This was a season we survived.
It’s worth pointing out that there are usually about 50 people who serve on the Tony nominating committee. This year only 29 were able to do so. And if the season was officially 26 months long (the first eligible show, “Girl from the North Country,” opened in March, 2020) much of it was concentrated in a single month – one wracked with cancellations and delays because of cases of COVID-19. (“19,” but back on the rise in 2022.) So the Tony nominators deserve praise for making it through – as do we all.
Broadway Season Closer: A Quiz
The Week in Theater Awards
The Week in Theater Reviews
The overdue resurrection of Alice Childress continues with this first New York production in half a century of “Wedding Band,” her richly resonant story of an interracial couple set in 1918 South Carolina… it is hard to imagine a more beautifully rendered, exquisitely acted version…a complex portrait of a community of distinctly sketched characters who are each in their own way trying to break free of the restrictions imposed on them because of their race, ethnicity, gender, or class. Read full review
Leo has long dominated and even bullied his family, but he’s also looked after them. Now he needs them desperately, but he’s not sure any of them will come through for him as he has for them.
He wants one of them to give him a kidney.
The premise of “Our Brother’s Son,” running at Signature Theater Center through June 24, is a promising one, and Charles Gluck, though a first-time playwright, might seem like the right person to explore it: He was a practicing physician for thirty years. But, while the play initially is a workmanlike family dramedy, it begins to feel like a missed opportunity….until it takes a sharp turn into an outright misfire. Read full review
despite the title, “Oh God, A Show About Abortion” isn’t exactly a show about abortion. It is largely a stand-up comedy routine. Leiby gives an account of the abortion she tells us she had three years ago, but she weaves in her comic take on a range of subjects that in effect add up to what it’s like to be a woman in America…the most disappointing moments in the monologue are when Leiby focuses on abortion.
The film on HBO Max is ostensibly about the 15th anniversary reunion concert of “Spring Awakening” by the original Broadway cast, a one-night event that occurred in November 2021. ..“Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known” is at its most fascinating when these talented and now established artists reminisce — and review — their youth and the start of their creative lives. Read full review
The Week in Theater News
The Actors Fund is changing its name to Entertainment Community Fund to reflect the reality of the larger constituency that it serves.
Ariana DeBose, Oscar winner for “West Side Story,” Tony nominee and 6-time Broadway veteran, will be the host of The Tony Awards on June 12th.
Plaza Suite has been extended through July 10 (two weeks past its original closing date)
For colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf initially scheduled to run through August 14, will now close May 22, 2022
Acclaimed West End production of Death of A Salesman is coming to Broadway “next season.” Besides Wendell Pierce (The Wire) & Sharon D Clarke (Caroline or Change), all-Black cast will now also feature Andre DeShields and Khris Davis.