The Atlantic Theater Company production of Rajiv Joseph’s play “Guards at the Taj” dominated the Lucille Lortel Awards, winning four prizes including Best Play over, among others, current Tony Awards frontrunner “The Humans.” That family drama by Stephen Karam had led here with six nominations but was shut out completely. On the musical side, the revival of “The Robber Bridegroom” claimed a leading three of these kudos that recognize the best of Off-Broadway. Zachary Levi, star of Broadway’s “She Loves Me” hosted the 31st annual edition of these awards at the NYU Skirball Center. This year’s event was once again a benefit for The Actors Fund. (Click here for a full list of winners)
The Lucille Lortel Awards 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. However, 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.
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. That was what happened to “Hamilton” which parlayed its Lortel laurels sweep last year into an acclaimed run on the rialto.
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.