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Let's suppose that the Broadway season for 2019-2020 has officially concluded, and that the Tony Awards are to be presented based on a consideration of the Broadway plays and musicals that did open since last summer.
Identifying the winners is not nearly as straightforward a task as you might imagine, not it you dig into the decision-making process. Things can get a bit tricky.
Should A Christmas Carol be considered a new play? Does David Byrne's American Utopia count as a musical, or is it a concert, with Broadway being the last stop on its tour? And what to make of Derren Brown: Secret, the excellent mentalist act that is plotless but is scripted?
There are also questions of categories -- who should be considered a lead actor or actress, and who is featured? It's not always obvious, and producers often campaign hard to place performers in the category where they are likely to be more competitive.
In any event, I am not going to agonize over these questions. I saw every production that opened on Broadway, with the lone exception of the holiday season return of Slava’s Snowshow, so I herewith offer my completely biased personal selections.
The envelope, please!
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Best New Play
Slave Play. Not nearly as outrageous nor controversial as it was hyped up to be, Jeremy O. Harris's play about racism in the U. S. managed to preach without being preachy and teach without being pedantic. It was funny in a do-I-dare-to-laugh sort of way, and serious in its underlying message to white Americans: if you want to be part of the solution, stop talking and start to listen.
Best New Musical
Jagged Little Pill. This marked a real upgrade to the usually justifiably maligned genre known as the "jukebox musical." Alanis Morissette's brilliantly angsty 1995 megabit album of the same title was the jumping-off point for Diablo Cody's emotionally honest script about characters who face believable real-life problems. It is arguably messy and overly ambitious, with far too many plot threads, but thanks to uniformly strong performances and Diane Paulus's direction, it is the clear winner.
Best Play Revival
A Soldier's Play. Charles Fuller's 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner had its first Broadway production this season. It was a thoroughly gripping examination of blind obedience and institutional racism within a military setting, and boasted starry performances by a rock solid cast under Kenny Leon's assured direction.
Best Musical Revival
West Side Story. To be sure, it was the only musical revival of the season. Nevertheless, I want to recognize it here because, and in spite of every attempt by director Ivo van Hove to "reinvent" the classic Sondheim/Bernstein musical, its mostly young cast pushed past the gimmicky video mayhem to breathe new life into this product of the 1950s. Not a lot of shows I'd willingly see again; this is one.
Best Actress In A Play
Mary-Louse Parker is the winner for her performance in Adam Rapp's enigmatic jigsaw puzzle of a play, The Sound Inside. She gave a richly layered portrayal of a college creative writing professor who lives in a cocoon of books and words, until she is handed a deep conundrum in the form of a manuscript from one of her students.
Best Actor In A Play
David Alan Grier wins this one for his role as the troubled sergeant in A Soldier's Play. His performance was mesmerizing, giving us as psychologically complex a character as you are ever likely to encounter on stage.
Best Actress In A Musical
Karen Olivo. Draw a straight line through time from Dumas's Camille to Verdi's Violetta to Puccini's Mimi to Satine, the female lead in Moulin Rouge. That's where you'll find the exquisite performance by Ms. Olivo, the only one who was able to stay fully fixed on the elusive heart of this glitzy spinning top of a musical.
Best Actor In A Musical
Isaac Powell as Tony in West Side Story. When he sings "Maria," it is as if the words were coming to him spontaneously. Last seen in the role of Daniel Beauxhomme in the wonderful revival of Once On This Island, this is one skyrocketing star.
Best Featured Actress In A Play
Joaquina Kalukango. She was a standout in Slave Play, giving a stunning performance in the exceptionally intimate role that leads the play to its breathtaking conclusion.
Best Featured Actor In A Play
Grantham Coleman. He single-handedly brought Robert Schenkkan's generally by-the-numbers play The Great Society to life through his terrific portrayal of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Best Featured Actress In A Musical
Lauren Patten. Her character was rather underwritten and peripheral to the main story, but she brought the audience to its feet with her performance of "You Oughta Know" in Jagged Little Pill.
Best Featured Actor In A Musical
Tie. Ricky Rojas and Sahr Nagaujah as, respectively, Santiago and Toulouse-Lautrec, played off one another with a great sense of camaraderie as the comic pair of would-be revolutionaries and masters of la vie boheme in Moulin Rouge.
Best Director Of A Play
Arin Arbus, for Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune, the impeccably performed (by Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon) two-hander by Terrence McNally, about a hot and heavy one-night stand that may or not lead to a more permanent relationship.
Best Director Of A Musical
Diane Paulus, for Jagged Little Pill, in which she managed to weave together the various characters and plot points into a near-seamless whole.
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, for her work in West Side Story. She made the dance elements all her own without slighting the memory of Jerome Robbins's iconic choreography, and the strong cast made the most of it.
Best Set Design For A Play
Riccardo Hernández, for Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune. He gave the set its most authentic look of a one-room walk-up apartment in pre-gentrification Hells Kitchen.
Best Set Design For A Musical
Derek McLane, for the dazzling eyeful that is Moulin Rouge.
Best Costume Design For A Play
Ben Stanton, for The Rose Tattoo, beautifully capturing through his design the mix of old world insularity, religion, and superstition on the one hand and sexual heat on the other. For the record, I rather enjoyed this revival of Tennessee Williams's most strange take on a romantic comedy.
Best Costume Design For A Musical
Catherine Zuber, also for the dazzling eyeful that is Moulin Rouge, altogether a visual feast.
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