Tony Awards preview: Best Play

While 13 new works are eligible for this year’s Tony Awards, only four will reap bids for Best Play. 

Of the eight shows that opened already this seasons, the clear frontrunner is “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” a roaring comedy with a healthy dash of sentiment and a nod to Chekhov, written by Tony nominee Christopher Durang. The production features an all-star cast of frequent Durang collaborators including Oscar and Tony nominee Sigourney Weaver, four-time Emmy Award champ and Tony winner David Hyde-Pierce (“Frasier,” “Curtains”) and Broadway veteran Kristine Nielsen.  Reviews were stellar across-the-board for this recent transfer to Broadway from Lincoln Center.

Of the seven other plays to date, three of them shuttered so quickly it is extremely unlikely that they will merit consideration. Would-be comedy “The Performers,” which starred TV’s Henry Winkler (“Happy Days”), ran a dismal six performances while the family drama “Dead Accounts,” eked out only 44 performances despite the presence of two-time Tony champ Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Holmes. The biggest disappointment of this trio was “The Anarchist” by Pulitzer-prize winner David Mamet (“Glengarry Glen Ross”). This two-hander starred two-time Tony champ Patti LuPone (“Evita,” “Gypsy”) and three-time Oscar nominee Debra Winger as a prisoner and her parole officer but managed only 17 performances. 

The other two productions that have closed could be respectable nominees in the category should the offerings this spring fall flat with critics.

“Grace” comes from a writer-director team making their Broadway debut. TV scribe Craig Wright (“Six Feet Under,” “Brothers & Sisters”) wrote a story about life and death struggles and crises of faith while Dexter Bullard directed a starry cast comprising of Paul Rudd, Michael Shannon, Kate Arrington and seven-time Emmy Award victor Edward Asner (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Lou Grant”). However, a short run, only mildly enthusiastic reviews, and an early closing date could work against it. . 

The second of the successful fall productions was “The Other Place,” by Sharr White, making his Broadway debut, and directed by two-time Tony winner and six-time nominee Joe Mantello (“Take Me Out,” “Assassins”). The show was lauded for its captivating story and an awe-inspiring performance from three-time Emmy champion and Tony nominee Laurie Metcalf (“Roseanne”) as a scientist who may have discovered a cure for dementia.

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The first of three one-woman shows this season has opened already: “Ann,” a snapshot of the life of Ann Richards, the late governor of Texas, written by and starring Emmy Award winner Holland Taylor (“The Practice”). While Taylor’s performance received excellent reviews and she could contend, the play has been dismissed as a star vehicle. 

A production that is currently running yet will be forgotten is the theatrical debut of “Breakfast At Tiffany’s.” Tony-winning playwright Richard Greenberg (“Take Me Out”) adaptated Truman Capote novella of the same name, and Tony nominee Sean Mathias directed. Despite the popularity of the property, this production has been critically derided as uninspired and lifeless, and could post a closing notice before the Tony nominations are announced May 2.  In such a crowded year, do not expect to see Holly Golightly contending for the top prize.   

However, Greenberg should not be written off this Tony Award season as he has another show in contention: Manhattan Theatre Club’s “The Assembled Parties.” Directed by frequent MTC collaborator Lynne Meadow, this boasts a stellar cast including last year’s Tony winner for Featured Play Actress Judith Light (“Other Desert Cities”), and Tony nominees Jessica Hecht and Jeremy Shamos.  Although the play hasn’t opened yet, word of mouth is positive, and plays into the trope of ruptured family dynamics that dominated this category last year with winner “Clybourne Park” and “Other Desert Cities.”  

Two plays in previews feature heavyweights on both sides of the stage lights.

“Lucky Guy” was written by the late Nora Ephron, a three-time Oscar nominee, and stars two-time Oscar champ Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump”) in his Broadway debut as newspaper columnist Mike McAlary. Two-time Tony winner and nine-time nominee George C. Wolfe (“Bring In ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk,” “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches”) directs this limited run which co-stars Emmy nominee Maura Tierney (“ER”) and opens on April 1. 

Two-time Tony winner Nathan Lane (“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “The Producers”) headlines “The Nance,” written by Tony nominee Douglas Carter Beane, who could also find himself contending for the revised libretto of “Cinderella.” Joining Lane in this bittersweet comedy about a closeted 1930s vaudevillian is Cady Huffman, who won a Tony for her work opposite Lane in “The Producers.” Three-time Tony victor and ten-time nominee Jack O’Brien (“The Coast of Utopia,” “Henry IV,” “Hairspray”) directs this LCT production which opens April 15.

“The Testament of Mary” just started previews prior to an April 22 opening. Colm Tóibín expanded the monologue he wrote for Tony champ Marie Mullen (“Beauty Queen of Leenane”) for a Dublin theater festival in 2011 into a novella. In turn, he adapted that into a longer piece for Olivier Award winner and Tony nominee Fiona Shaw (“Machinal”). She plays the Virgin Mary who reflects on the death of her son, Jesus Christ. 

“I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,” the final show of the season, marks the returns to the rialto of two-time Oscar nominee and Grammy and Emmy winner Bette Midler after an absence of more than four decades. Tony champ John Logan (“Red”) has written a one-woman show about the mercurial Mengers who coined the term “superagent” in the 1970s. With Mantello helming, the pedigree of this production is promising. Of the three one-woman shows, this has the best chance at nabbing a nomination given the caliber of the cast and creative team. However, the limited run could keep it from contending as voters may not deem it necessary to give this high profile entry a boost. Like Richards, Midler will be a formidable force in the competitive Best Play Actress race. 

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