There have been several all-star smash Broadway play revivals so far in the 2014-15 season with a few more potential candidates to come before the Tony cut-off date of April 23. So the race for Best Play Revival is a lot hotter than the competition for Best Play which hasn’t featured as many runaway successes
The biggest revival hit with audiences is Terrence McNally’s “It’s Only a Play” which has proved to be such a huge smash it extended its limited run and changed theaters because its previous home, the Schoenfeld, had been reserved for “The Audience” starring Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II. Originally produced Off-Broadway in 1986, “Play” is a wild backstage comedy taking place at the opening night party of the latest work by neurotic playwright Peter Austin (Matthew Broderick). This best friend, actor James Wicker (Nathan Lane) who turned down the lead in order to continue starring in a TV sitcom, shows up to trade barbs. In addition to a reteaming of these two stars of “The Producers,” the marquee included such hot names as Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham, Emmy winner Megan Mullalley, “Harry Potter” star Rupert Grint, and Emmy and Tony winner Stockard Channing. Lane has left the show to star in “The Iceman Cometh” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Mullalley and Grint have also departed. But “Play” continues to be a hit with Martin Short replacing Lane and could be a formidable contender for the Best Play Revival Tony.
The nearest rivals are two equally star-laden vehicles, neither of which will be running at Tony time—Bernard Pomerance’s “The Elephant Man” and Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance.” A closing doesn’t affect a revival’s chances as much it would for a new play since this category is seen as more of a prestige slot than a money-maker and revivals are usually limited runs. The last two winners were either about to close (“A Raisin in the Sun”) or had already shuttered (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”).
“The Elephant Man” has the edge. This 1977 play about the real-life John Merrick, a disfigured man who went from circus freak to the toast of Victorian society, received rapturous reviews and star Bradley Cooper is a front runner for Best Actor.
“A Delicate Balance,” the 1967 Pulitzer Prize winner detailing a family coping with friends terrified by an unnamed menace, is headlined by Glenn Close, John Lithgow and Lindsay Duncan and drew mixed notices.
Another limited-run all-star revival, “You Can’t Take It With You,” with James Earl Jones and Rose Bryne, also will have closed by Tony time, but this is a 1936 screwball laughfest and the award rarely goes to a comedy, unless it’s the biggest hit of the season like “It’s Only a Play.”
Kenneth Lonergan’s “This Is Our Youth” has a stronger chance of being remembered. Thought it closed in January, this bittersweet look at a trio of aimless Manhattan rich kids (Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, Tavi Gevinson) drew lots of young audiences—a rarity on Broadway—and rave reviews.
There are two additional candidates which have yet to open and could feature strongly in the mix. Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Heidi Chronicles,” a drama-comedy about the lives and loves of an art historian which stars Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men” and David Hare’s “Skylight,” a drama concerning a famous restaurateur reuniting with a former lover, with British stars Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan. The former could turn into a popular hit thanks to Moss’s TV wattage and the latter may become a snob-appeal smash.
Two other possibilities are Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” which starred Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal as adulterous lovers in the London theater and A.R. Gurney’s two-character “Love Letters” which featured revolving casts including Mia Farrow, Brian Dennehy, Carol Burnett, and Alan Alda. Both closed much earlier in the season and drew a lukewarm reception from the press and audiences.
Like the Oscars, the Tonys have amended their rules to allow for the possibility of more than the usual number of nominees in the top categories. In the case of Best Play, Musical, Revival of a Play and Musical, there are normally four slots available. Starting this year, if the votes between the top fourth and fifth nominees is very close (three votes or less), a fifth nominee is allowed. So I will say “It’s Only a Play,” “The Elephant Man,” “A Delicate Balance,” and “This Is Our Youth” are the definite finalists with “The Heidi Chronicles” and “You Can’t Take It With You” candidates for the possible fifth spot.
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