Let’s take a closer look at the three nominees for Best Play Revival: “Betrayal,” “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” and “A Solider’s Play.” Our exclusive odds give the edge to “A Soldier’s Play,” but this only remains to be one of the closest races at this year’s virtual awards. Remember, only those Tony voters who saw all three nominees can vote in this category. Tony watchers theorize that this new rule helped “The Boys in the Band” win this race last year despite being the first production of the season to have opened (on May 31, 2018).
The first nominee is the third Broadway revival of Harold Pinter’s 1978 award-winning play, “Betrayal.” The story chronicles a seven-year affair in reverse chronological order. The original Broadway edition earned Tony nominations for star Blythe Danner and director Peter Hall.
This edition came to town after a successful run in London’s West End earlier this year, starred Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton, and Charlie Cox, and ran from September to December 2019. The previous revival six years ago was a more literal staging, starred real-life married couple Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz along with Rafe Spall, and also marked the final Broadway credit for legendary director Mike Nichols. It had a ho-hum reception and was snubbed by the Tonys.
For Tony voters who saw both recent stagings, they probably went into the latter thinking “Why are we getting another ‘Betrayal’ revival? We just had one a few years ago.” Yet, they likely came out feeling so impressed with how different it was thanks to director Jamie Lloyd‘s minimal staging, which gave much more focus to the performances. That factor likely helped the Ivo van Hove-helmed production of Arthur Miller‘s “A View from the Bridge” win this award in 2016 despite it already having completed its limited run a few months prior to the Tonys. That too came on the heels of a more traditionally staged revival in 2010 that starred Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson.
We have seen quite a few winners in the category of Best Musical Revival that offered brand new takes on classic works as opposed to straight forward stagings including Sam Mendes & Rob Marshall‘s reimagining of “Cabaret” in 1998, Diane Paulus‘ of “Pippin” in 2013, John Doyle‘s of “The Color Purple” in 2016, Michael Arden‘s of “Once on This Island” in 2018, and Daniel Fish‘s of “Oklahoma!” last year.
The next nominee is the second Broadway run for Terrence McNally‘s 1987 two-hander, “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” which is about a waitress and cook whose first date turns into a one-night stand. The production, which starred six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald and Tony nominee Michael Shannon, was originally scheduled to run from May to August 2019 but due to low ticket sales closed on July 28. This turned out to be the final time McNally was able to see one of his plays on Broadway. He died from COVID-19 earlier this year.
“Frankie and Johnny” is the only Best Play Revival contender that saw its director (Arin Arbus) snubbed. Since the category was introduced in 1994, only two productions have managed to win without a directing nomination: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 2001 and “The Boys in the Band” last year. In both of those instances, none of the competition had directing bids either.
The third contender is the Broadway premiere of Charles Fuller’s 1981 stage play, “A Solider’s Play.” Set in 1944, it tells the story of a Black sergeant murdered on an Army base in Louisiana. The film adaptation under the title of “A Soldier’s Story” in 1984 directed by Norman Jewison earned three Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture).
“A Solider’s Play” is a modern classic that had never been produced on Broadway like recent Best Play Revival winners Larry Kramer‘s “The Normal Heart” in 2011, August Wilson‘s “Jitney” in 2017, and Mart Crowley‘s “The Boys in the Band” in 2019. This edition was just about to wrap up its run on March 15 when theaters shuttered. Tony Awards rules say that if a classic work had never been produced on Broadway and wins a Best Revival category, then the author gets a trophy alongside the producers.
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