The play’s indeed been the thing on Broadway this season, which began with the magnificent new play Pass Over and ended with the baffling revival of Macbeth starring Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga. Almost half of this season’s plays were closed by April, when a rash of productions opened in the hopes of supplanting the season’s earlier triumphs in the minds of the nominating committee. Will they be successful? Let’s run down the possibilities in the major categories.
Even though it’s closed, it’s hard to think of anything other than Stefano Massini’s The Lehman Trilogy as the frontrunner in the top category. After an overwhelmingly buzzy staging at the Park Avenue Armory before the pandemic shut Broadway down for over a year, the production transferred to Broadway to rave reviews and sold-out audiences. The buzz for this play has been deafening for almost two whole years, and the nominating committee surely won’t forget it. Tracy Letts further cemented his status as one of America’s greatest dramatists with his new play, The Minutes, a portrait of American governmental rot which should also get nominated with ease. Hangmen, the latest darkly comic triumph from Martin McDonagh, is also a sure bet. But the play with the biggest Broadway buzz right now is the one with the best title: Selina Fillinger’s new farce POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive. Fillinger’s Broadway debut has audiences and critics in stitches, and has five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman directing an all-star cast of funny ladies to give the production the pedigree Fillinger lacks on her own. If there’s one early-season play that could get nominated here, we suspect the most likely candidate is Manhattan Theater Club’s Skeleton Crew, which has a better combination of pedigree and reviews than Thoughts of a Colored Man and has the benefit of not being based on previously-existing material like the (also-closed) acclaimed docu-dramas Dana H. and Is This A Room. But don’t count out Pass Over. The first show of any kind to open this season made a huge, critically-acclaimed splash, and if the nominating committee wants to make a point of showing the theater community that they’ve been listening to the complaints that Broadway needs to become more diverse, they could hardly do better than this highly memorable debut from a young female African-American playwright.
Best Play Revival
Sweetness isn’t exactly on the menu with this year’s play revivals, with the year’s only pure comedy being Neil Simon’s dated Plaza Suite with Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker. It doesn’t stand a chance here, not with the acclaim received by all the other revivals this season (except for Sam Gold’s take on Macbeth). David Mamet may have been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons, but American Buffalo got great reviews, and its cast (Laurence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell, and Darren Criss) is well-liked enough that the production should be able to overcome that. Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive has never been on Broadway, and the reunion of its brilliant original cast members Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse has been the talk of the town in recent weeks. Take Me Out turned 20 this year, and its no-phones-allowed anniversary staging is by all accounts exactly what Richard Greenberg’s all-American play deserves. Ntozake Shange’s landmark for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf has gotten the kind of revival that will ensure its place in the canon of Great American Plays. We’d guess that the last slot will be taken by either the currently running revival of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, which powerfully features an all-black central cast, or the long-closed production of Alice Childress’s Trouble in Mind, which revived a forgotten play from a forgotten playwright to the kind of acclaim that made everyone wonder how the Broadway landscape might have been different if it had come to the Great White Way in 1957 as it was supposed to.
Direction of a Play
Sam Mendes is a bit of a theatrical legend, and The Lehman Trilogy was both the most acclaimed play and the hottest ticket of the season, so a miss for him in this category would be a shock. The other hot ticket has been How I Learned to Drive, and original director Mark Brokaw should also get a nomination for returning to the show two decades later with his original cast and making the play feel just as intimate on Broadway as it did Off Broadway. Susan Stroman, a previous Tony winner for musicals, proved herself to be as adept at staging the Oval Office farce of POTUS as she has been at choreographing large ensemble dance numbers, and should be able to get in on her reputation and the play’s buzz. Anna D. Shapiro and playwright Tracy Letts have been a match made in heaven for years now, and their latest collaboration on The Minutes is yet another triumph. The fifth spot feels most likely to go to Matthew Dunster, as the highly-acclaimed Hangmen feels like a top contender for Best Play, but choreographer Camille A. Brown received rapturous reviews for her revival of for colored girls…, and Lileana Blain-Cruz wrangled Thornton Wilder’s thorny classic The Skin of Our Teeth into a new context in perhaps the most directed play of this bunch. Since the theater community has been on a mission to make Broadway more inclusive recently, nominating either or both of these ladies would send a powerful positive message.
Leading Actress in a Play
Congratulations, Mary-Louise Parker on your second Tony Award in a row! Returning to the role of Li’l Bit in How I Learned to Drive 25 years after originating it Off Broadway, Parker has received some of the best reviews of her storied career; the kind of reviews that almost guarantee awards will follow. No one else has managed those types of raves, although Deirdre O’Connell came close for her performance in Dana H., in which she lip synced the recorded testimony of a woman abducted by a white supremacist. The harrowing play has long since closed, but O’Connell is a veteran of New York theater, and this is exactly the kind of performance that should bring her her first Tony nomination. Is This A Room, which played in rep with Dana H. at the Lyceum Theater in the fall, received similar raves for its lead actress, Emily Davis, playing Reality Winner in a staging of the raw transcript of her 2017 FBI interrogation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the raw star power of Ruth Negga, perhaps the sole survivor of the critical savaging of Macbeth, and Tony winner LaChanze, who received glowing reviews for the Roundabout’s revival of Trouble in Mind. We suspect those will be the five nominees, but don’t count out Broadway baby Sarah Jessica Parker for her performance in Plaza Suite – much like in Negga’s case, the production isn’t much-loved, but she is.
Leading Actor in a Play
Can superstars Matthew Broderick and Daniel Craig make their way into this lineup despite their shows being poorly reviewed and their performances being divisive? If either of them manage it, it will be because of internal competition for the strongest candidates. The Lehman Trilogy was the hottest ticket of the fall, and Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, and Adrian Lester all received glowing reviews. Beale is the biggest name, and Lester has the showiest part, but will both of them make it in? Or even all three? Similarly, Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell are incendiary in the revival of American Buffalo, but is this category big enough for the both of them? With How I Learned to Drive’s David Morse almost guaranteed a spot for revisiting the role of Uncle Peck twenty-five years after originating the part Off Broadway, at least one of those five isn’t going to make it, and there’s still stage legend Tracy Letts in The Minutes, the gorgeous Jesse Williams in Take Me Out, the well-reviewed David Threlfall in Hangmen, and the beloved Ruben Santiago-Hudson in the long-closed revival of his own play Lackawanna Blues. This is one of the most stacked categories of the year, and it could go any number of ways.
Featured Actress in a Play
Much like with Six on the musical side of things, all the ladies of POTUS will be competing against each other for nominations in one category, making it hard to predict any one of them for a nomination. Beloved Saturday Night Live alum Rachel Dratch has been receiving the most individual praise, so she’s probably the likeliest, but it’s hard to bet against theater legend Julie White. If anyone from POTUS does manage to get nominated, though, they will face stiff competition. Uzo Aduba was a scene-stealer in Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s earlier in the season, and her star power should carry her through to a nomination. Same goes for Phylicia Rashad, who doesn’t have to do much to get attention from the Tonys, but stole many scenes in the fall’s Skeleton Crew. Johanna Day has received glowing reviews for her return to How I Learned to Drive, one of the season’s hottest tickets. Kenita R. Miller’s powerful performance in for colored girls… has been cited in every single review as the stand-out of the ensemble. The lack of such stand-out reviews for Tony darling Jessie Mueller and the beloved Blair Brown in the stacked ensemble of The Minutes is probably indicative of their eventual shut-out here. Earlier in the season, it seemed as though previous Tony nominee Amber Gray could be a front-runner in this category for taking on the role of Banquo in Macbeth, but the reviews of the play were savage, and she also didn’t receive any stand-out notices amongst the ensemble. Given how relatively thinly-spread this category is, she could still eke out a nomination given the following she’s gathered after Great Comet and Hadestown.
Featured Actor in a Play
This race will likely come to down to two men in very different roles in very different plays: Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who has gotten the best reviews of his career for the revival of Take Me Out, and Alfie Allen, who received a splashy profile in the New York Times in advance of his critically-lauded Broadway debut in Hangmen. After that, this category becomes less clear. Michael Oberholtzer has gotten the most praise from the Take Me Out ensemble after Ferguson in that show’s big antagonist role. Noah Reid could ride his Schitt’s Creek fame to a nomination for his stalwart central performance in The Minutes, but he has strong internal competition from Ian Barford, who stops the show with a blistering soliloquy, and the beloved, scene-stealing Austin Pendleton. Ron Cephas Jones and Chuck Cooper received great reviews for their performances in Clyde’s and Trouble in Mind, respectively, but are their performances still top of mind after so many months? At least Brandon J. Dirden is currently on Broadway in Take Me Out to remind audiences of how wonderful he was in a key part in the fall’s Skeleton Crew.
Nominations will be announced May 9. The 75th Annual Tony Awards is set to be held on June 12, 2022, to recognize achievement in Broadway productions during the 2021–22 season. The ceremony will be held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, will be broadcast live on CBS for the first time coast to coast and hosted by Academy Award winner and Tony Award nominee Ariana DeBose.
- The Lehman Trilogy
- The Minutes
- Skeleton Crew
Alt. Pass Over
Best Play Revival
- American Buffalo
- for colored girls…
- How I Learned to Drive
- Take Me Out
- Trouble In Mind
Alt. The Skin of Our Teeth
Direction of a Play
- Mark Brokaw, How I Learned to Drive
- Camille A. Brown, for colored girls…
- Sam Mendes, The Lehman Trilogy
- Anna D. Shapiro, The Minutes
- Susan Stroman, POTUS
Alt. Matthew Dunster, Hangmen
Lead Actress in a Play
- Emily Davis, Is This A Room
- LaChanze, Trouble In Mind
- Ruth Negga, Macbeth
- Deirdre O’Connell, Dana H.
- Mary-Louise Parker, How I Learned to Drive
Alt. Sarah Jessica Parker, Plaza Suite
Lead Actor in a Play
- Simon Russell Beale, The Lehman Trilogy
- Adrian Lester, The Lehman Trilogy
- Tracy Letts, The Minutes
- David Morse, How I Learned to Drive
- Sam Rockwell, American Buffalo
Alt. David Threlfall, Hangmen
Featured Actress in a Play
- Uzo Aduba, Clyde’s
- Johanna Day, How I Learned to Drive
- Rachel Dratch, POTUS
- Kenita R. Miller, for colored girls…
- Phylicia Rashad, Skeleton Crew
Alt. Amber Gray, Macbeth
Featured Actor in a Play
- Alfie Allen, Hangmen
- Chuck Cooper, Trouble In Mind
- Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Take Me Out
- Michael Oberholtzer, Take Me Out
- Austin Pendleton, The Minutes
Alt. Noah Reid, The Minutes
Photo: Paul Kolnik