‘Angels in America’: ‘Magnificent’ revival of Tony Kushner masterwork is Tony Awards frontrunner

In 1993, two-time Tony winner and two-time Oscar nominee Tony Kushner earned the coveted Pulitzer Prize for “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches,” the first half of his celebrated magnus opus that employs realism and fantasy in its exploration of the AIDS crisis in the mid-1980s. In the first Broadway revival of Kushner’s masterwork, which opened at the Neil Simon Theatre on Mar. 25, “Millennium Approaches” gets performed in repertory with its second half, “Perestroika,” in a production helmed by Marianne Elliott that debuted at London’s National Theatre last year.

Two-time Tony winner Nathan Lane (“The Producers,” 2001; “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forums,” 1996) and Tony nominee Andrew Garfield (“Death of a Salesman,” 2012) headline this production of “Angels in America,” lending awards prestige to an already celebrated work. The original production of “Millennium Approaches” earned nine Tony nominations in 1993, winning four, while “Perestroika” earned six noms and took home three trophies. The HBO miniseries adaptation of Kushner’s plays earned a whopping 21 Emmy nominations, winning 11, including one for Kushner.

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Critics hailed the return of Kushner’s masterwork to Broadway. Ben Brantley (New York Times) deems the production “flat-out fabulous” with a “top-flight cast,” including Lane and Garfield, who give “career-high performances.” Despite the severity of its themes, Brantley says that Elliott’s “enthralling” production “blazes with a passion that is the opposite of morbid” and “feels freshly and frighteningly relevant to this fraught year.” Additionally, Brantley touts the performances of the “terrific” James McArdle and Denise Gough, who “shimmers,” and the “celestial” costumes rendered by Nicky Gillibrand.  Barbara Schuler (Newsday) also praises this “high-impact” revival, Elliott’s “eloquent” direction, Garfield and Lane’s performances, and the “glories of Ian MacNeil’s futuristic set.”

No less enthusiastic, Sara Holdren (Vulture) declares that “the play couldn’t feel more vivid, more eloquently enraged, funnier, or more full of life” due to the “piercing, balletic direction” of Elliott and her “spare and spectacular” production. In addition to the marquee names in the cast, Holdren kudos the “stellar” Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, the “stirring, towering” Lee Pace, the “restrained and wry” Gough, the “fantastic” Susan Brown, and McArdle, who gives a “wonderfully unsympathetic interpretation” of his role of Louis. She also raves for the production’s “top-notch design team,” especially the “exquisite lighting” by Paule Constable. In his five-out-of-five star review, Adam Feldman (Time Out New York) heaps similar acclaim onto this “production of magnificent tenderness and sinew” of Kushner’s “expansive and shattering masterpiece.”

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In light of the effusive praise this production of “Angels in America” received from critics, it seems likely that the Tony nominating committee with respond similarly. In a season jam-packed with high-profile play revivals, including Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” and Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh,” this expansive mounting of “Angels in America” seems to have a leg-up in the Best Revival race.

Marianne Elliott will also be a very strong contender in Best Director, especially in light of her perfect track record at the Tony Awards. On Broadway, she has directed two productions, “War Horse” (2011) and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” (2015), both of which resulted not only in Tony nominations for Elliott, but also Tony wins. When Elliott won in 2011, she became only the fourth female director to prevail in the category. Since then, two more female directors have won, including reigning champion Rebecca Taichman (“Indecent”), but Elliott remains the only woman to have two wins in the category. Although her vision for the two-part, seven-plus hours of “Angels in America” puts a third trophy within Elliott’s reach, she will face very stiff competition from John Tiffany, who has also helmed a two-part production this season in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”

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A large number of the “Angels in America” cast members may also receive Tony nominations and some could very likely walk away with trophies. Both Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield received ample acclaim for their performances and both will certainly land nominations. Depending on category placement, which will be finalized at an upcoming meeting of the Tony administration committee, Garfield and Lane may face off in the Best Actor category. On the other hand, one of the two, most likely Lane, could campaign to contend in Featured Actor, which could result in both men taking home hardware in June. Based on the reviews, any number of the other ensemble members could receive nominations, too, with James McArdle and Denise Gough most likely, though with so much support for many of the actors, “Angels in America” could easily land multiple nominations in both Featured Actor and Featured Actress.

The design team of “Angels in America” also seems well poised for numerous Tony nominations. Scenic designer Ian MacNeil already has one Tony win (“Billy Elliot: The Musical,” 2009) and one nomination (“An Inspector Calls,” 1994) on his résumé and he will certainly earn a third nomination for his work on this production. Likewise for lighting designer Paule Constable, who has earned two Tony wins for her previous collaborations with Marianne Elliott (“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” 2015; “War Horse,” 2011) out of five total nominations. Though they have not yet picked up trophies, costumer designer Nicky Gillibrand, who has a nom for “Billy Elliot,” and sound designer Ian Dickinson, who has two previous Tony nominations (“Jerusalem,” 2011; “Rock ’n’ Roll,” 2008), will most likely both have another chance at the honor this season for their work on this production, too.

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