Heidi Schreck (‘What the Constitution Means to Me’): Pulitzer Prize before Tony Awards?

The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama will be announced on April 15. American playwrights will surely hope to see themselves named as winner, not only for the prestige that comes with the Pulitzer, but for a boost in the hotly competitive Tony race for Best Play.

Not everyone is eligible for this sought after award. The Pulitzer is an American organization and gives out its award and $15,000 prize to “a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.” That removes English playwright Jez Butterworth and his hit play “The Ferryman” from competition, despite his strong Tony odds.

Aaron Sorkin could gain momentum if the Pulitzer committee enjoys his “To Kill a Mockingbird” adaptation. After all, it is a uniquely American story that remains resonant in today’s society. Still, Harper Lee provides some big shoes to fill, and the Pulitzer is rarely awarded to an adaptation.

Instead, I suspect Heidi Schreck is the most likely Pulitzer candidate from  the current Broadway crop. Her powerful exploration of politics through personal stories in “What the Constitution Means to Me” scored some of the most impressive reviews of the season. Though it is not a massive production and is unlikely to pop up in most categories, it could still be a force to be reckoned with in Best Play. While the Broadway bow of “Constitution” occurred after the Pulitzer eligibility deadline, the play will be considered for its Off-Broadway run at New York Theatre Workshop.

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Indeed, Off-Broadway tends to dominate the Pulitzers. These voters favor hard hitting dramas that are usually presented in more intimate theaters with less commercial pressure. The majority of winners from the past decade were Off-Broadway entries, including “Water by the Spoonful” by Quiara Alegria Hudes, “Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris, “Disgraced” by Ayad Akhtar, “The Flick” by Annie Baker, “Sweat” by Lynn Nottage and “The Cost of Living” by Martyna Majok. In the cases of “Clybourne Park,” “Disgraced,” and “Sweat,” they all made successful Broadway transfers and were nominated for Best Play at the Tony Awards after their Pulitzer triumphs. “Clybourne Park” won the Tony.

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There are plenty of acclaimed Off-Broadway contenders who will try to steal a vote away from Heidi Schreck. Another New York Theatre Workshop presentation is in the mix: Jeremy O. Harris’ “Slave Play.” Eleanor Burgess was highly admired for “The Niceties” at Manhattan Theatre Club. “Mlima’s Tale” by Jo Anne Bonney made waves at The Public Theater and just scooped up a few Lortel Award nominations. And I’d be shocked if Antoinette Nwandu’s “Pass Over” wasn’t at least a finalist after its lauded run at Lincoln Center.

Musicals can take the Pulitzer Prize for Drama too, of course. But it rarely happens more than once a decade and we’ve already had two since 2010 (“Next to Normal” and “Hamilton”). Still, the musical “Soft Power” is the type of poignant and relevant work that could win over this group. It also helps that the tuner is from two former Pulitzer finalists who have yet to win: Jeanine Tesori (“Fun Home”) and David Henry Hwang (“M Butterfly”).

Still, the ball is in Schreck’s court. Especially with the Broadway mounting of “Constitution” ushering in a second round of praise and publicity for the play. Should the Pulitzer Prize wind up in Schreck’s hands, it would give her a vital piece of ammunition to take down “The Ferryman” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the stacked Tony race for Best Play.

Be sure to make your Tony predictions today so that Broadway insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominees are announced on April 30. And join in the fun debate over the 2019 Tonys taking place right now in our theater forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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