The Tonys and Trauma. #Stageworthy News of the Week

The 76th annual Tony Awards, which crowned Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt as best play and Kimberly Akimbo by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori as best musical (complete list of winners), was all singing and dancing (watch the videos of the 13 musical numbers in the show), with unscripted speeches and short introductory videos. 

Lead performer Tony winners: Sean Hayes, Jodie Comer, J. Harrison Ghee, Victoria Clark

As bizarre as the set-up was (including the split into two “acts” on different channels), It went surprisingly smoothly, I thought, glamorous but low-key. It evidently accomplished what it set out to do, judging from the immediate rise in traffic to my opening night reviews of Leopoldstadt, Some Like It Hot, Camelot and Kimberly Akimbo – a possible first step in the much-hoped-for Tony Bump, an increase in ticket sales that comes from the national exposure.  There were also some groundbreaking winners: J. Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell became the first nonbinary performers to win Tony Awards (they both won as best actors, because the Tony Awards still categorize by gender – unlike most other theater awards now.) Jeanine Tesori won her second Tony (after Fun Home), the second woman to do so. 

I was struck, though, by how much of these winning shows were concerned with trauma in some way: Both “Leopoldstadt” and the Tony-winner for musical revival, “Parade,” are about antisemitism, “Topdog/Underdog,” best play revival, deals with the effects of racism, Jodie Comer won for her performance in “Prima Facie,” a solo show about the aftermath of a rape. Even “Kimberly Akimbo,” quirky and charming, focuses on a teenager who has a terminal disease and a criminally dysfunctional family. 

Many of the acceptance speeches could be heard as acts of resistance against ongoing trauma in the world.
Bonnie Milligan, featured performer in “Kimberly Akimbo”: “I want to tell everybody that doesn’t maybe look like what the world is telling you you should look like, whether you’re not pretty enough, you’re not fit enough, your identity is not right, who you love isn’t right — that doesn’t matter, because guess what? It’s right, and you belong somewhere.”

Michael Arden, director of “Parade”: “‘Parade’ tells the story of a life that was cut short at the hands of the belief that one group of people is more or less valuable than another and that they might be more deserving of justice. This is a belief that is the core of antisemitism, of white supremacy, of homophobia, of transphobia and intolerance of any kind. We must come together. We must battle this. It is so, so important, or else we are doomed to repeat the horrors of our history.”

Trauma has been the underpinning as well of almost all the new plays I’ve seen in the last month — the 2023-2024 season, and especially this past week — one about antisemitism, two about alcoholism, another featuring Death. (See reviews below.)

Bonnie Milligan cheering an early “Kimberly Akimbo” win (she later got her own Tony.) Samuel L. Jackson after losing to Brandon Uranowitz

The Week in OTHER Theater Awards

Brian Stokes Mitchell hugging Audra McDonald

Brian Stokes Mitchell to Theatre World Award: Make them hear you!

Watch Jodie Comer, Jessica Chastain and the Mandy Patinkin Show at the 2023 Drama Desk Awards

The Week in New York Theater Reviews

The Shylock and the Shakespeareans 

The play has most of Shakespeare’s characters and the outline of the plot and subplots. But there are many changes [that] attempt to do many things – shift the story to a Jewish perspective; create a broad farce, make pointed references to issues of race, gender and social class; provide contemporary resonance; make mischief. The result is intelligent, thought-provoking, sprawling; with some light moments, some light-bulb moments, some really dark moments. Full Review 

Wet Brain

Joe’s three messed-up adult children long have known Joe to be an alcoholic, an addict and a horrid father. But they didn’t realize he was an alien from Outer Space. They learn this…in a scene that is the unmistakable highlight of “Wet Brain.” … memorable thanks largely to scenic designer Kate Noll, but everybody has a hand in it including playwright John J. Caswell Jr. and the fine five-member cast. Full Review 

Brittany Bradford as Ursula, Caleb Eberhardt as Emilio

The Comeuppance 

The Comeuppance” both begins and ends with Death. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ dark, smart, play features Death as a character, hanging out with five former classmates during the night of their twentieth high school reunion. In this well-acted but often frustrating production…Death is not portrayed by a single performer. Rather, he/she/it takes over each of the five characters in turn to deliver a series of chatty monologues using their voice and body. Full Review

The Week in Theater News

Just hours before the Tony Awards celebrating Broadway’s 2022-2023 season, an announcement for a (tenth!) new show in the new season: “Melissa Etheridge: My Window” opening September 28, 2023 at Circle in the Square. Details in my Broadway 2023-24 preview guide

David Byrne’s ‘Here Lies Love’ Reaches Deal With Broadway Musicians (NY Times)

The show has agreed to use twelve live musicians rather than recorded music.

More Scenes from Tony 2023

Presenters Barry Manilow and Melissa Manchester, both of whom have musicals slated for the Broadway 2023-2024 season.

Author: New York Theater

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

Leave a Reply