May 4, 2024

A Few Thoughts on an Awards Season Full of News-Worthy and Prize-Worthy Nominations

We’re officially in awards season.  The Outer Critics Circle, on whose nominating committee I sit, announced its choices for the best in the 2023-2024 season last week (click here to see our nominations for shows both on and off Broadway).  And then this week came nominations from the Drama Desk, which celebrate shows on, off and off-off Broadway (click here for its choices) and the Chita Rivera Award nominations for the best in theatrical dance (click here for those nods).  And then, of course, came the Tony Award nominations (click here to see those).

Still to come are the Drama Critics Circle Awards, which will be announced on May 13 and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, which is scheduled to be announced on May 8.

But even with all those chances, some worthy contenders always get left out. And that was even more the case this year because there were so many shows13 opening in the last two weeks of the season aloneso many of them boasted award-worthy elements and so many of them featured big casts with lots of talented performances. Which made it all the more difficult to put out a slate of just five to seven names in any category. 

It delighted me when some of my personal favorites got recognized (yay, Mother Play) and made me a little sad when some didn’t (Michael Imperioli really should have been in the mix for his turn in An Enemy of the People). But what I focused on more is what these combined nominations tell us about the current state of Broadway, which is searching for a new identity in this post-pandemic era.

Most attention tends to center around the prizes for musicals because (1) that’s what so many theatergoers think of when they think of a Broadway show and (2) musicals are so damned hard to get right. So I'm going to focus this post on them too. And it makes extra sense to do that because last season saw an influx of new voices and talents into that arena.

More award-winning playwrights than ever are writing the books for musicals. Kristoffer Diaz, a one-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, wrote the book for Hell’s Kitchen, the musical drawn from the songbook of Alicia Keyes and inspired by the singer-songwriter’s coming of age in the ‘90s in the New York City neighborhood that gives the show its title. 

Another former Pulitzer finalist Craig Lucas collaborated with composer Adam Guettel on Days of Wine and Roses, the story of a couple (gloriously played by Brian d'Arcy James and Kelli O'Hara) whose lives are ruined by alcoholism. 

Meanwhile yet another Pulitzer finalist, Adam Rapp adapted The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton’s now-classic 1967 novel about rival teen gangs divided along social class lines.  

And Jackie Sibblies Drury, who actually won the Pulitzer in 2019 for her audacious play Fairview, created the narrative storyline for Justin Peck’s all-dance show Illinoise, which was inspired by and set to the music of Sufjan Stevens.

But Stevens’ music wasn’t the only score to redefine what a Broadway show now sounds like. Singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson created the pop-rock score for The Notebook; the folk-rock duo Jamestown Revival collaborated with Justin Levine on the music for The Outsiders and the collective of musicians known as the Pigpen Company did the score for Water for Elephants.  

However perhaps most surprisingly, Will Butler, a former member of the indie band Arcade Fire, wrote the songs for Stereophonic, David Adjmi’s play about a rock band working through both artistic and personal issues as it records its sophomore album. 

Shaina Taub’s score for Suffs, a show about the feminist campaign to get women the right to vote, is a bit more traditional but it's attention worthy too because Taub is one of just a handful of women ever to have written the book, score and lyrics for a Broadway show.

Women also broke out in other ways last season. Four of the five Tony nominations for Best Director of a Musical deservedly went to women: Maria Friedman for Merrily We Roll Along, Leigh Silverman for Suffs, Jessica Stone for Water for Elephants and Danya Taymor for The Outsiders.  

All of these writers, composers and directors picked up OCC or Drama Desk nominations too. As did their shows.  And because there is no obvious frontrunner for the Best Musical this year, watching as the nominees and their producers jockey for the top prizes could make this awards season one of the most fun and exciting in recent memory.

Update: Although above the post said the Pulitzer Prize for Drama would be announced on May 8, it was announced on May 6 (and you might think I would have known better since I had the honor of chairing this year's jury; click here for info about the runners-up and the other jury members). The prize went to Eboni Booth's Primary Trust (click here to listen to an interview I did with Booth when the show ran at Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre last year).

No comments: