Tony Awards 2017: Best Play could be filled with Broadway writing debuts

Ten new plays compete for the Best Play award at the upcoming Tonys. Though the scribes of these new works range from veteran playwrights to young up and comers, all but one of these plays is their first script to make it to the rialto. When nominations are announced on May 2nd, the entire category could be filled with Broadway writing debuts.

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Two celebraetd female writers from the New York theatre scene finally land on the Great White Way this spring, after years of award-winning plays. Lynn Nottage’sSweat” transfers to Studio 54 after a successful Off-Broadway run at The Public Theater. The play about a group of Pennsylvania steelworkers should be a major contender this spring. Nottage is most known “Ruined” for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Paula Vogel also won the Pulitzer for her instant classic “How I Learned to Drive.” She makes a long awaited leap to Broadway with “Indecent” which is inspired by the true events surrounding Sholem Asch’s controversial 1923 play “God of Vengeance.”

Two young playwrights on the rise were quickly snatched up by Broadway after recent success in smaller venues. After an initial run at Roundabout Theatre Company, Joshua Harmon’s “Bad Jews” became the third most produced play in America for the 2014-2015 season. He competes for the Tony with “Significant Other”, a poignant coming of age comedy about a gay 20-something who feels abandoned when his friends all start getting married. Lucas Hnath is another lauded new voice who made a splash with Off-Broadway plays “The Christians” and “Red Speedo.” Hnath’s first Broadway play, “A Doll’s House Part 2” takes a comedic look at what happens after the famous door slam of the Henrik Ibsen classic. He has assembled a dynamite cast of performers (Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell, and Condola Rashad) who could help boost the show’s awards chances.

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New York based comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney took their hysterical two man show to Broadway after a successful tour and Off-Broadway run. “Oh Hello on Broadway” brought laughter to Times Square audiences this fall, and could tickle Tony voters fancies if they are looking for a comedy to fill one of the nomination slots. The play also marks Kroll and Mulaney’s Broadway acting debuts.

J.T. Rogers is a New York writer with international acclaim. British critics fawned over “Blood and Gifts,” his London hit about the struggle for control of Afghanistan in the 1980s. He tackles political drama once more with “Oslo,” centering on the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. After a sold out Off-Broadway run, Lincoln Center transfers the production to the Vivian Beaumont Theater with Tony winners Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle.

As for foreign scribes: Andrew Upton makes his first trip to the boards with “The Present”, starring his wife Cate Blanchett. The play is an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “Platonov”, following similar adaptations of “Uncle Vanya” and “The Cherry Orchard” Upton debuted at the Sydney Theatre Company. A trio of Brits cross the pond for the first time with the farce “The Play that Goes Wrong.” Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields wrote the piece in the vein of “Noises Off” which has proved a runaway hit in London. And though Simon McBurney has previously worked on Broadway as a director (receiving a Tony nomination for “The Chairs”), “The Encounter” marks his debut as a writer and performer. The play chronicles the real life adventures of photojournalist Loren McIntyre in the Amazon using unique sound design and a highly physical performance style.

So who is the sole writer to break the first-timer trend? Simon Stephens, the English playwright being Manhattan Theater Club’s limited run of “Heisenberg.” Stephens won the Best Play Tony two years ago for “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” His latest two hander, starring Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt, earned rave reviews from critics. But in order to crash the party of Broadway debuts, “Heisenberg” will have to overcome the early fall premiere and “out of sight out of mind” mentality of Tony voters.

If Stephens fails to snag a nomination, it will be the second year in a row that every author nominated for Best Play will be making their Broadway playwriting debut. Last years’ nominated writers were Danai Gurira (“Eclipsed”), Mike Bartlett (“King Charles III”), Florian Zeller (“The Father”) and winner Stephen Karam (“The Humans”). When nominations are announced on May 2nd, we will find out if such a rare feat can be repeated.

Predict the Tony Awards nominees now; change them until May 2

Be sure to make your Tony Awards predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Broadway insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our Tony odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on May 2. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Tony Awards taking place right now in our theater forums.

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