Tonys Awards preview: Best Play Revival

The most competitive of the top four Tony Awards categories is Best Play Revival.  While 13 productions are eligible, only four will earn a bid on Tuesday.

The clear frontrunner is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” the third Broadway revival of the American classic.  Written by Tony winner and three-time Pulitzer Prize victor Edward Albee (“The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia,” “Three Tall Women,” “Seascape,” “A Delicate Balance”), this production was directed by Pam MacKinnon, fresh off a Tony nod for helming last year’s Best Play “Clybourne Park.” The original 1963 production won five of six bids, including Best Play. While the 1977 revival reaped only two noms, the 2005 remount earned six, including Best Revival. This productions stars Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Tracy Letts (“August: Osage County”) and Tony-nominee Amy Morton

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Coming on strong is the just-opened revival of “The Trip to Bountiful” by Pulitzer Prize winner and Tony nominee Horton Foote (“The Young Man From Atlanta”). The original 1953 production won a Tony for the featured performance of Jo Van Fleet. This is the first revival and is led by Emmy champ and Oscar nominee Cicely Tyson (“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman”), Tony, Emmy, and Grammy Award nominee Vanessa Williams and Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (“Jerry Maguire”).

Another likely contender is the majestic revival of Clifford Odets’ “Golden Boy,” which closed in January. The original 1937 production predated the Tonys while the 1952 remount did not reap any bids. This season’s revival is poised to make a splash as Tony champ Bartlett Sher (“South Pacific”) directed a large ensemble including three-time Emmy winner Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”), and three-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein.           

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The most financially rewarding revival of the season was “Glengarry Glen Ross,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for David Mamet. That production was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Play, and won one acting bid. The 2005 staging was nominated for six Tony Awards, and won two, including Best Revival. Will this most recent revival follow suit? The cast was led by Oscar, two-time Emmy and two-time Tony winner Al Pacino and included  Emmy winner Bobby Cannavale (“Will and Grace”), David Harbour and Jeremy Shamos. Seven-time Tony nominee Daniel Sullivan (“Proof”) directed. 

One of the most bizarre behind-the-scenes stories of the season came from the cast of “Orphans.” The show was supposed to star Shia LaBeouf opposite two-time Emmy winner Alec Baldwin (“30 Rock”). However, LaBeouf had a very public falling out with Baldwin and was replaced with Ben Foster, making his Broadway debut. The 1983 show is receiving its first Broadway production, but was deemed a revival by the Tony committee due to its longevity on a variety of notable stages. 

Although “Macbeth” is one of the most produced of Shakespearea’s tragedies, the current production, which just opened, is unlikely to contend. Tony Award winner and two-time Emmy nominee Alan Cumming (“Cabaret,” “The Good Wife”) plays all the characters in this production directed by John Tiffany, who won the Tony last year for helming the tuner “Once.” 

Three revivals came along early in the Tony season and may not be remembered in the nominations though their stars could contend. “Harvey,” a revival of the 1945 Pulitzer Prize winner starred two-time Emmy winner Jim Parsons and Jessica Hecht; “Cyrano de Bergerac” showcased Tony champ Douglas Hodge (“La Cage Aux Folles”); and the Henrik Ibsen classic “An Enemy of the People” was headlined by four-time Tony victor Boyd Gaines (“The Heidi Chronicles,” “She Loves Me,” “Contact,” “Gypsy”) and Richard Thomas

Remembered far less favorably were two other star-studded productions.

The Heiress” was revived for the fourth time under the direction of Tony nominee Moisés Kaufman. The 1995 remount won four its seven Tony bids, including Best Revival. This season’s production was led by two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, Emmy champ David Strathairn (“Temple Grandin”) and two-time Tony winner Judith Ivey (“Steaming,” “Hurlyburly”).        

Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” came back to the rialto for a fifth time. The original 1955 production won both the Tony and the Pultizer. Subsequent productions did not fare as well as, picking up only an occasional acting bid. Broadway hadn’t been begging for another revival of this show either, as there have already been two in the last decade. But Tony winner Scarlett Johansson (“A View from the Bridge”) wanted to do it and was surrounded by a strong supporting cast in the likes of Tony champ Debra Monk  (“Redwood Curtain”) and Ciarán Hinds

And two other productions can be ruled out due to their universally unfavorable reviews. The revival of the Pulitzer prize-winning  “Picnic” was dismissed despite a cast that included triple crown acting winner Ellen Burstyn and up-and-comer Sebastian Stan. And “The Big Knife,” which is still currently running, was cut down by critics, although Tony nominee Canavale and character actor Richard Kind were spared.   

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