Sunday 11 June 2017

Plays, plays, plays: Tonight's Tony Awards

The most pressing questions about this year’s Tony Awards:

Will Kevin Spacey sing? Will it be Ben Platt or Andy Karl (if either) who wins Best Actor in a Musical? Will Groundhog Day or Dear Evan Hansen win the title of Best Musical? Perhaps it will be Come From Away which won the Drama Desk Award. Will Oslo sweep the board before its London transfer this Autumn? Will Kevin Spacey sing? How many awards will Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 (this year’s most nominated show with 12 nods) walk away with? Will Kevin Spacey sing? Here is a little whistle stop tour of this year’s Best Play and Best Revival of a Play Tony nominations.

Best Play

In times of political and national uncertainty, we still look to playwrights. Of all the eligible plays for this year’s award, these four are arguably the most expansive in theme and ambitious in their scope. Vogel's Indecent is probably the most daring in its form. Two women have been nominated for Best Play this year. That’s only previously happened twice before (unless I’m mistaken), in 1960 (Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Lillian Hellman’s Toys in the Attic) and 2002 (Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses and Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog). Staggeringly, or perhaps not so, this is the first time both Nottage and Vogel have had plays on Broadway and therefore been nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. I thought they’ve both nominated before, Nottage for Ruined and Vogel for How I Learned to Drive, but that is not the case. Yasmina Reza remains the only woman to have been nominated more than once for this award for ‘Art’ which won in 1998 and God of Carnage which won in 2009.

Lynn Nottage’s Sweat
Paula Vogel’s Indecent (There are two fascinating New Yorker articles on this play and Sweat, which can be read here and here).
Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House Part 2
J.T. Rogers’ Oslo

Best Revival

Something curious about the Best Revival of a Play award for the last couple of years is the awards’ insistence on including the playwright’s name in with the title of the play with most of the American plays. The Tony Awards have specifically titled plays as 'John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation', 'Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes', and 'August Wilson’s Jitney'. The same honour(?) hasn’t been subscribed to Coward’s Present Laughter. Last year, the same went for revivals of 'Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge' (although I don’t think that the London production was titled like that and some might argue it was as much 'Ivo Van Hove’s A View from the Bridge' as it was Arthur Miller’s) and 'Arthur Miller’s The Crucible'. The same didn’t go, however, to David Harrower’s Blackbird, Frayn’s Noises Off or even O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. This new trend seems an attempt by the awards to highlight famous work from the American 20th century canon. I think it does put more weight on a play or production if the author’s name is listed in front of it as it has been here. For example, people might not know Jitney but they might have heard of August Wilson. Even so, it seems oddly and perhaps unnecessarily patriotic.

August Wilson’s Jitney (1977).
This production marks the last of Wilson’s 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle to be staged on Broadway, whereas all the others were nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play for their original Broadway productions.
Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes (1939).
It was last nominated in 1981 starring Elizabeth Taylor. It was the only play nominated that year, as musical and play revivals were only split in 1994. Other nominees included the winning Pirates of Penzance, Brigadoon and Camelot.
Noel Coward’s Present Laughter (1942).
It was last nominated 20 years ago in 1997 for a production starring Frank Langella and Alison Janney (the latter was in this year’s revival of Six Degrees of Separation).
John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation (1990).
Guare’s play was nominated for Best Play in 1991 when Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers won, which had this year’s host Kevin Spacey playing Louie.

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