Off-Broadway production of ‘Once’ wins three Lucille Lortel Awards

The off-Broadway version of Tony contender “Once” won three prizes at the 27th annual edition of the Lucille Lortel Awards Sunday. The tuner, based on the 2006 Oscar-winning film, reaped a leading seven bids and claimed Best Musical, Choreographer (Steven Hoggett) and Lighting (Natasha Katz).

“Sons of the Prophet” won Best Play and Best Actor (Santino Fontana). In all, 30 productions were in contention across 14 categories. Winners were revealed during a ceremony at the NYU Skirball Center. (See full list of winners here.)

The Lortels are handed out in a range of categories. Some are akin to those at the Tony Awards, which salute the best of Broadway, such as Best Play and Best Musical. Rather than separate musical and play performances as do the Tonys, the Lortels lump them together. Most of this year’s nominees appeared in plays rather than musicals. 

While the Tonys have dropped their catch-all award for special theatrical event, the Lortels continue to salute such efforts. “The Iliad” won Best Solo Show while “Voca People” was named Best Alternative Theater Experience.

These awards also lauded Richard Frankel and the Fire Department of the City of New York for service to the off-Broadway community. 

These kudos are presented by the Off-Broadway League, a collection of producers who stage shows in smaller venues than those on Broadway. A successful off-Broadway run can lead to a transfer to Broadway and a chance to contend at the Tony Awards as has happened with “Once.” The Lucille Lortel Awards — named for the renowned actress turned producer — do what the Drama Desk Awards used to — celebrate the best of off-Broadway.

While the Tony Awards, which date to 1947, salute Broadway, the Drama Desk kudos were begun in 1955 to honor the rest of the New York theater world. And for the first 14 years they did just that with winners coming exclusively from the burgeoning off-Broadway scene. However, beginning with the 15th festivities in 1968, those appearing on Broadway became eligible for consideration and since then these awards have tilted towards those also competing at the Tonys, leaving the off-Broadway performers in the wings until the Lortels came along.

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