Tony Awards Best Play Revival preview: Which 20th century classic will win in 2017?

We’re less than five weeks away from the announcement of nominations for this year’s Tony Awards. We’ve already covered the contenders for Best MusicalBest Play and Best Musical Revival so let’s talk about the possibilities for Best Play Revival.

Among the nine contenders are plays from seven decades of the 20th century: the aughts, the 20s, the 30s, the 40s (two), the 60s, the 80s (two) and the 90s.

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“The Cherry Orchard” (opened October 16; closed December 4)
Before Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Anton Chekhov’s 1904 classic, “The Cherry Orchard” started performances back in the fall, there was a great deal of anticipation based on the talent involved. Tony winner Stephen Karam (“The Humans”) update the text and the all-star cast was led by Oscar nominee Diane Lane (“Unfaithful” [2002]), three-time Tony nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger (“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee ” [2005], “Peter & the Starcatcher” [2012], and “The Glass Menagerie” [2014]), Tony and Oscar winner Joel Grey (“Cabaret”), Tony winner John Glover (“Love! Valour! Compassion!” [1995]) and Tony winner Chuck Cooper (“The Life” [1997]).

With that cast and translated text, you’d think “What could go wrong?” Turns out bringing British theatre director Simon Godwin on board was a mistake as the production left critics cold. Ben Brantley of The New York Times described it as both “terminally confused” and “the most clueless interpretation of Chekhov I have seen.” His was typical of the underwhelming critical response to this production which ended its run on December 4, don’t expect “The Cherry Orchard” to receive any Tony nominations on May 2.

Set in Russia at the turn of the twentieth century, “The Cherry Orchard” chronicles a noblewoman’s return to her family estate after a five-year absence to escape troubling memories of her son’s death. Lyubov Ranevskaya (Lane) arrives home to find the cherry orchard in full bloom, but the finances of the estate on the verge of ruin. Lyubov and her brother, Gaev (Glover), find themselves scrambling to retain a vision of gentility amidst a climate of huge social and economic transition. The 1977 revival which featured Raul Julia, Meryl Streep, and even a 12-year-old Diane Lane is the only Broadway production of the Chekhov classic to have been Tony nominated. It earned five nominations, and wins for Best Lighting Design (Jennifer Tipton) and Best Costume Design (Santo Loquasto).

“The Front Page” (opened October 20; closed January 29)
For the most recent revival of Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur’s 1928 comedy, producer Scott Rudin came up with a clever idea by having the critics come to review the production on opening night as opposed to a later preview performance (which was actually how Broadway shows were reviewed in the old days). “The Front Page” follows tabloid newspaper reporters in the press room of Chicago’s Criminal Courts Building covering the story of an escaped prisoner. When star reporter Hildy Johnson (four-time Emmy nominee John Slattery) accidentally discovers the runaway convict, he and his editor Walter Burns (two-time Tony winner Nathan Lane) conspire to hide the man from the other reporters, while they chase the biggest scoop of their careers.

The 1986 production earned two Tony nominations the following year for Best Revival and Best Scenic Design (Tony Walton). As for the response to this one, there was quite a bit of talk about the play not having aged well. However, the notices were positive overall with generous praise for the cast, especially Lane, who may just earn himself another Tony nomination this year for Best Featured Actor in a Play (since his character didn’t even show up in the three-act comedy until near the end of Act II). As for other categories, depending on how competition shapes up, the production could be nominated for Best Play Revival and two-time Tony nominee Douglas W. Schmidt (“42nd Street [2001]”, “Into the Woods” [2002]) may also earn a bid for Best Scenic Design of a Play.

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Les Liaisons Dangereuses” (opened October 30; closed January 8)
The most recent Broadway revival of Christopher Hampton’s 1985 stage adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ 1782 novel came to Broadway after an acclaimed run in London, but it wasn’t as acclaimed on this side of the pond. “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” follows former lovers, La Marquise de Merteuil (Tony winner Janet McTeer) and Le Vicomte de Valmont (Tony winner Liev Schreiber) as they compete in games of seduction and revenge. These merciless aristocrats toy with the hearts and reputations of innocents. Merteuil incites Valmont to corrupt the convent-educated Cecile de Volanges (Elena Kampouris) before her wedding night but Valmont has other designs. His target is the peerlessly virtuous and happily married Madame de Tourvel (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen).

The original production in 1987 earned eight Tony nominations, but no wins. The previous revival in 2008 had five bids, and one win for Best Costume Design of a Play (Katrina Lindsay). Critics were divided on this new production, with the best received aspects being the design elements. Lightind design was by past Tony nominee Mark Henderson (“The History Boys” [2006]) while Tom Scutt (a nominee last year for his costumes in “King Charles III”) handled both costume and scenic design.

Jitney” (opened January 19; closed March 12)
What an exciting time it is to be an August Wilson fan. Not only with the recently released film adaptation of his 1987 Tony-winning play, “Fences”, but also the critically-acclaimed Broadway premiere of this 1982 play. Set in the early 1970s, “Jitney” follows a group of men trying to eke out a living by driving unlicensed cabs, or jitneys. When the city threatens to board up the business and the boss’ son returns from prison, tempers flare, potent secrets are revealed and the fragile threads binding these people together may come undone at last.

This production from Manhattan Theatre Club could well earn Tony nominations for Best Play Revival, several of the featured cast including past Tony nominee Anthony Chisholm (August Wilson’s “Radio Golf” [2007]), Brandon J. Dirden and Obie Award winner John Douglas Thompson (off-Broadway’s “Othello” [2009]) and the helming by Tony-winning actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson (August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson” [1996]).

Tony Awards Best Musical Battle:
“Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812” and “Dear Evan Hansen”

“The Glass Menagerie” (opened March 9; closing July 2)
Critical response to this new production of Tennessee Williams’ 1944 classic was all over the place. In “The Glass Menagerie”, Southern matriarch Amanda Wingfield (two-time Oscar winner Sally Field) worries constantly over her two live-in adult children, the painfully shy Laura (newcomer Madison Ferris) and Laura’s restless poet brother, Tom (two-time Tony-winning director Joe Mantello). With great persuasion, Tom brings home a possible suitor (Emmy nominee Finn Wittrock) for Laura, but reality soon casts a shadow on Amanda’s dreams for both her children.

The last revival from 2013 was the only Broadway production of the play to have been Tony nominated. It earned seven bids with a win for Best Lighting Design of a Play (Natasha Katz). While there were some very positive reviews for this production, among the not-so-good was a tepid one from New York Times critic Ben Brantley. Maybe Field will get in but otherwise this production might be too divisive to become a strong contender at the Tonys.

The Price” (opened March 16; closing May 14)
The Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Arthur Miller’s 1968 drama also earned varying reviews. “The Price” tells the story of Victor Franz (three-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo) who is forced to give up his dream of an education to support his father during the Depression. Three decades later, Victor returns to his childhood home to sell the remainder of his parents’ estate. His wife (Tony nominee Jessica Hecht), his estranged brother (three-time Emmy champ Tony Shalhoub), and the wily furniture dealer (Emmy winner Danny DeVito) hired to appraise their possessions all arrive with their own agendas, forcing Victor to confront a question, long-stifled, about the value of his sacrifice.

The original production earned only two Tony nominations in 1968 for Best Play and Best Scenic Design (Boris Aronson). The last two revivals from 1992 and 1999 each contended for Best Revival. The best bet for a bid from this revival is DeVito who, at age 72, is making a critically-acclaimed Broadway debut.

Tony Awards Best Play preview:
Pulitzer Prize winners hope for first Tonys

There are three more productions opening on Broadway next month. And they are …

Present Laughter” (opening April 5; closing July 2)
A new production of Noel Coward’s 1946 comedy. The play follows Garry Essendine, a self-indulgent actor who receives a visit from a young admirer, initiating a parade of intruders and interruptions, including his ex-wife, his manager and an aspiring playwright. This production stars two-time Tony winner Kevin Kline (“On the Twentieth Century” [1978], “The Pirates of Penzance” [1981]), three-time Tony nominee Kate Burton (“The Elephant Man” [2002], “Hedda Gabler” [2002], “The Constant Wife” [2006]), Tony nominee Kristine Nielsen (“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” [2013]), and TV star Cobie Smulders (“How I Met Your Mother” [2005-14]). The 1996 revival earned only one Tony nomination the following year for Best Revival. The last revival from 2010 also earned one nomination, but for Best Scenic Design of a Play (Alexander Dodge).

The Little Foxes” (opening April 19; closing June 18)
Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club is a new Broadway production of Lillian Hellman’s 1939 play. Set in Alabama in 1900, the play follows Regina Hubbard and her ruthless clan, including her sister-in-law Birdie Hubbard, as they clash in often brutal ways in an effort to strike the deal of their lives. This production stars three-time Tony nominee Laura Linney (“The Crucible” [2002], “Sight Unseen” [2005], “Time Stands Still” [2010]) and Tony winner Cynthia Nixon (“Rabbit Hole” [2006]). They will be alternating between the characters of Regina and Birdie. The 1981 revival earned five Tony nominations, but no wins. The last revival from 1997 earned only two nominations for Best Featured Actor in a Play (Brian Murray) and Best Scenic Design (John Lee Beatty).

Six Degrees of Separation” (opening April 25; closing July 16)
The first Broadway revival of John Guare’s acclaimed 1990 play. “Six Degrees of Separation” tells the story of Ouisa and Flan Kittredge, a wealthy New York couple who take in Paul, a young man who cons them into believing he’s a friend of their son at Harvard and the son of Sidney Poitier. After they discover his lies, Ouisa and Flan piece together his true identity and their connection to him, as well as the similar encounters their upper class friends have had with Paul. This production stars two-time Tony nominee and seven-time Emmy champ Allison Janney (“A View From the Bridge” [1998], “9 to 5: The Musical” [2009]), Tony winner John Benjamin Hickey (“The Normal Heart” [2011]), and screen star Corey Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton” [2015], “24: Legacy” [2017]). The original production earned four Tony nominations the following year, winning one for Best Direction of a Play (Jerry Zaks).

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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