The Drama League named “Once” as top tuner and “Other Desert Cities” as the best new play of the year at their 78th annual awards on Friday. Both of those off-Broadway productions transferred to the rialto and are frontrunners for the Tony Awards on June 10.
Each edged out, among others, their fiercest rival Tony nominees — “Newsies” and “Clybourne Park” — to claim these prizes bestowed during a star-filled luncheon. Last year, “War Horse” and “The Book of Mormon” won over the Drama League before sweeping the Tony Awards.
While the League gives prizes for best play and musical as well as revivals of each genre, it is unique among the theater kudos in that it hands out only one award for distinguished performance. And once won, the performer cannot contend again.
This year, 56 actors were competing for the honor first given to Katharine Cornell in 1935. They range from A (Jane Alexander, “The Lady from Dubuque”) to W (Mary Louise Wilson, “4,000 Miles”). The winner was four-time Tony champ Audra McDonald, who is the frontrunner for Best Actress (Musical) at the Tonys for “Porgy and Bess.”
Last year, Mark Rylance picked up this prize for his performances in “La Bete” and “Jerusalem” before winning the Best Actor Tony for the latter. Two years ago, Alfred Molina won over the League with his work in “Red” but went on to lose the Best Actor Tony to Denzel Washington (“Fences”). Two years ago, Geoffrey Rush took home this award several weeks before prevailing at the Tonys for his performance in “Exit the King.”