Theatre never ends in New York, but the 2015-2016 Broadway theatre season, a useful marker, wrapped up in late April with the musical Shuffle Along. Next week’s Tonys will send awards season, which holds sway for a few weeks after Broadway’s last premiere, shuffling along. Last night, the spotlight fell on the Drama Desk, my organization, which announced its awards, drawn from Broadway, Off Broadway, and Off Off Broadway.
Unlike the Tonys, the Drama Desks were entirely Hamilton-free–that blockbuster began its awards spree last year, with its Off Broadway production at the Public. One of this year’s most nominated shows was another, rather different musical, American Psycho–which closed a few hours before awards time. Lest you think I’m tweaking the hard-working nominating committee for their choice, let me add that, as a former nominator myself, it happens–musical flops like Lovemusik and 9 to 5 also garnered plenty of kudos. And there are, or were, award-worthy elements to American Psycho. Indeed, it won a few technical awards. But no one leaves a musical humming the lighting and projections, and the adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel was otherwise vacant, with barely dressed performers succumbing to dirge-like tunes well before the homicidal lead caught up with them. Benjamin Walker, who played the part with an amusing tinge of Adam West’s Batman, has my pity–he has everything going for him to be a major star, except the right roles.
Closing tonight, on a happier note, is the Off Broadway hit Daddy Long Legs, which is scheduled to tour. I suggest you treat yourself to this delightful musical, which won John Caird an award for his adaptation of Jean Webster’s novel. You may recall the 1955 film, with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron, but don’t–this is an elegant, epistolary chamber piece (no dancing), exquisitely sung and acted by Megan McGinnis and Adam Halpin (“a singing Ryan Gosling!” my wife exclaimed). The performers are married, which underscores the theme of the piece, that two people who seem to know each other extremely well know each other only in part. (Take away the exchange of letters, and the benign deception, that drives the storyline, and you’re left with how everyone feels about their better half from time to time.) Caird and Paul Gordon, who supplied the music and lyrics, collaborated on a Broadway Jane Eyre that was one of the more distinguished flops of recent seasons, and this far more modest undertaking should have a longer and more prosperous afterlife.
Elsewhere, the wealth was spread and surprises were few, other than two winners for Outstanding Director of a Musical. (I sprang for Spring Awakening, so the tie wasn’t on me.) She Loves Me, which received the most nominations of any show, won for Outstanding Musical Revival. Shuffle Along. an FAQ of a tuner enlivened by the dauntless Audra McDonald tap dancing, won Outstanding Musical. (Is there anything McDonald can’t do?) Stephen Karam’s scarifying play The Humans added to its Special Ensemble Award by winning Outstanding Play. At the nominees reception last month, Karam told me that the shivery piece was his attempt at an Ira Levin-type “horror play,” the kind not done anymore. Graced with that great cast and extraordinary, award-winning design, the show is that, and more, a dissection of our greatest fears played out in a rickety Chinatown apartment. (Oh, and it’s funny, too.)
I expect The Humans to repeat next week at the Tonys, along with some of tonight’s winners, like Frank Langella (giving his usual all to The Father, a so-so play about the ravages of dementia) and Jessica Lange (a so-so Mary Tyrone in the unsatisfying revival of Long Day’s Journey Into Night). If I had to pick an Ivo van Hove revival of an Arthur Miller play this season I’d handily pick The Crucible, with its cray-cray touches (flying witches! Onstage wolf dog!) over the deadening A View from the Bridge, as my peers did. Perhaps the Hamiltons–err, the Tonys–will get it right next Sunday, on CBS.