Monday, May 9, 2016


The Outer Critics Circle winners were announced at midnight. Here's how my picks turned out, along with an analysis of the winners, non-winners, and some that did not make it onto the final list of nominees. As an FYI, Hamilton was not eligible for consideration, as its Off Broadway production at the Public Theater won last year. And Shuffle Along opened too late for voters to be able to see it in time for this year's awards; it will be eligible for next year. 

To begin with, we agreed on the winners in 9 (or 9.5 if you include the tie for outstanding featured actress) of the 25 competitive categories. Here's where we concurred:

Outstanding Solo Performance
James Lecesne, The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey.

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical

Dear Evan Hansen

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Cynthia Erivo: The Color Purple

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical

Christopher Fitzgerald: Waitress

Outstanding Director of a Musical
Michael Arden: Spring Awakening

Outstanding Book of a Musical

Dear Evan Hansen

Outstanding Choreographer

Sergio Trujillo: On Your Feet!

Outstanding Lighting Design
Justin Townsend: American Psycho

Outstanding Projection Design
Finn Ross:  American Psycho

All things being equal, I prefer a strong ensemble effort over allowing the performers to take turns in the spotlight.  Similarly, I am more drawn to innovative productions over the tried-and-true.  Where my choices veer from the winners, you'll see these predilections reflected in my thinking. 

Outstanding New Broadway Play

The Humans edged out my pick, Eclipsed.  I actually thought they were equally good. I selected Eclipsed because of its broader global significance. On the other hand, as a production, The Humans was nigh unto flawless, a view supported by my selections for outstanding actor, actress, and director.

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play
The Christians won over my selection, Hold On To Me Darling. If truth be told, I thought there were better plays that didn't make the cut.  Among these was Red Speedo, written by Lucas Hnath, the same playwright who gave us The Christians. Others were Martyna Majok's Ironbound, Tarell Alvin McCraney's Head of Passes, and Anna Ziegler's Boy, though the best of the lot was Annie Baker's John, which held me spellbound for its entire three-and-a-quarter-hours running time.

John Gassner Playwriting Award for American Play
Marco Ramirez's The Royale took the award over my favorite, Boy, written by Anna Ziegler. The Royale benefited from a truly compelling production under Rachel Chavkin's direction, but Boy struck me as the better play, with its sensitive handling of the potentially tabloid-screaming subject matter of gender identity and the "nature vs. nurture" debate. 

Outstanding Revival of a Play
Long Day's Journey Into Night got the nod over my pick, The Crucible. I thought the production of Long Day's Journey Into Night lacked the kind of ensemble feel I look for, with too much over-the-top idiosyncratic acting vying for our attention. Actually, I thought the Signature Theatre's production of Incident At Vichy was better than either of these.

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Frank Langella was the winner for his brave and emotionally powerful performance as a man getting further and further lost in the crushing jaws of Alzheimers in The Father. No complaints here, but my preference was for Reed Birney for his portrayal of a man who was also lost (though for different reasons) in The Humans. Missing from the list of nominees was Bobby Steggert, for his richly layered performance in Boy.

Outstanding Actress in a Play
The winner, Jessica Lange, gave a rich and starry performance as Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night. I picked Jayne Houdyshell for her equally stellar work in The Humans.  I was surprised at not seeing Phylicia Rashad on the list of nominees for her fiery performance in Head of Passes, or Georgia Engel for her terrific work in John

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Michael Shannon won for Long Day's Journey Into Night.  I chose Sanjit De Silva for his work in the satirical Dry Powder at the Public, but missing from the nominations was the standout performance of Richard Thomas as the conscious-stricken aristocrat in Incident At Vichy.

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
I went back and forth between Pascale Armand in Eclipsed and Judith Light in the otherwise jaw-droppingly gothic Thérèse Requin. I went with Pascale Armand, but how nice that they tied.

Outstanding Director of a Play
Ivo van Hove got the award for his direction of A View From The Bridge, over my preference of Joe Mantello for The Humans. I found the production of A View From The Bridge to be decidedly overwrought, and that of The Humans to be...well...more human.

Outstanding New Broadway Musical
I really liked Bright Star, and I am not unhappy that it won over my choice of Waitress. Neither was perfect, but both boast excellent casts and big-hearted stories. I thought another contender, American Psycho, had potential but that it was presented with the wrong tone: too tongue-in-cheek where it needed to exude irony.

Outstanding Revival of a Musical
She Loves Me, the much-loved 1963 romantic comedy by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, won over John Doyle's reimagined version of The Color Purple and Deaf West's production of Spring Awakening -- both of which more than justified their quick appearance after recent original Broadway runs. I opted for Spring Awakening's innovative take on the original (which closed just six years ago), for its seamless integration of deaf and hearing actors, along with one cast member in a wheelchair and terrific performances all around. The creative team behind the revival of She Loves Me opted to give each of its very talented cast members an opportunity to shine in individual numbers -- an approach that takes away from the ensemble feel.  

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
What's not to like about Danny Burstein? Loved him in the pitch perfect revival of Lanford Wilson's Talley's Folly, and in the musical revivals of South Pacific, Follies, and Cabaret. He's also doing beautiful work as Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof, a performance that deservedly garnered the Outer Critics Circle award. My pick, however, was Alex Brightman, whose acting career hit the big time with his starring role in School of Rock. Keep an eye, too, on Ben Platt, especially if Dear Evan Hansen makes the leap to Broadway.

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Jane Krakowski won for her excellent performance in She Loves Me. I went for Andrea Burns's tangy turn as Gloria Estefan's mother in On Your Feet!, a standout performance that helped to raise the quality of that show above that of the typical jukebox musical.

Outstanding New Score
I very much enjoyed Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's bluegrass-infused score for the winning Bright Star, but I went with Dear Evan Hansen by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who also penned the equally excellent Dogfight and A Christmas Story.

Outstanding Costume Design
Jeff Mashie won for She Loves Me. I was more taken with ESosa's colorful salsa-inspired costumes for On Your Feet!

Outstanding Set Design
David Rockwell won for She Loves Me. I opted, instead, for Mimi Lien's lovely old creaky boarding house in John. Someone I wish had been included as a nominee was G. W. Mercier for the highly imaginative and versatile design for Head of Passes.  

So that's a wrap.  Next up, we'll take a look at the nominations for the Drama Desk Awards.  

Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the new website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.

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