The 2021-2022 Broadway season has been quite a busy one for actor Brandon J. Dirden. First he appeared opposite Phylicia Rashad in Manhattan Theatre Club’s presentation of Dominique Morisseau‘s play “Skeleton Crew” this past winter. Now he can be seen in Second Stage Theater’s revival of Richard Greenberg‘s 2003 Tony-winning play “Take Me Out.” After having previously appeared in award-winning Broadway productions of “Clybourne Park” (2012), “All the Way” (2014), and “Jitney” (2017), will either of Dirden’s two main stem appearances from this past year make him a first-time Tony nominee?
In “Skeleton Crew,” Dirden played Reggie, the manager of one of the last auto stamping plants in Detroit. The company is on shaky ground and the workers have to make choices about how to move forward if their plant goes under. All the while Reggie is torn between doing right by his work family and the red tape in his office. Now in “Take Me Out” he plays Davey Battle, a religious baseball player who is best friends with Darren Lemming (Jesse Williams), a mixed-race center fielder for a rival team who comes out as gay.
We’ve seen in the past that if you’re on Broadway in two major roles at different points in the same season, you’re likely going to end up receiving at least one Tony nomination. Here are past examples:
Jill O’Hara – She opened “George M!” in the spring of 1968, then left to open “Promises, Promises” in December of that year, and was Tony nominated for the latter.
Meg Bussert – She was in “The Music Man” in June of 1980, then opened “Brigadoon” in the fall of that year, which ran into February of 1981, and was Tony nominated for the latter.
Judy Kuhn and Terrence Mann – They both opened (and closed) “Rags” in August of 1986, then went on to open “Les Misérables” in the spring of 1987, and they both received their very first Tony nominations for the latter.
Faith Prince – She opened (and closed) “Nick and Nora” in December of 1991, then went on to open “Guys and Dolls” in the spring of 1992, and she won the Tony for the latter.
Blair Brown – She opened “James Joyce’s The Dead” in January of 2000, then left in March to open “Copenhagen” the following month, and she won the Tony for the latter.
Christine Ebersole – She appeared in “The Best Man” in the fall of 2000, then opened “42nd Street” in the spring of 2001, and she won her first Tony for the latter.
Nathan Lane – He did “The Man Who Came to Dinner” in the summer/fall of 2000, then opened “The Producers” in the spring of 2001, winning his second Tony for the latter.
Audra McDonald – She was in “Henry IV” in the fall of 2003, then opened “A Raisin in the Sun” in the spring of 2004, and won her fourth Tony for the latter.
Kelli O’Hara – She opened “Dracula” in the summer of 2004, closed that show in January of 2005, then opened “The Light in the Piazza” in the spring, and she received her very first Tony nomination for the latter.
John Cullum – He performed in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” during the 2006 holiday season, then opened “110 in the Shade” in the spring of 2007, and was Tony-nominated for the latter.
Boyd Gaines – He had “Pygmalion” in the fall of 2007, then opened “Gypsy” in the spring of 2008, and he won his fourth Tony for the latter.
Jessica Hecht – She opened (and closed) “Brighton Beach Memoirs” in the fall of 2009, then appeared in “A View From the Bridge” in the winter/spring of 2010, and was Tony nominated for the latter.
Beth Leavel – She was in “Elf” during the 2010 holiday season, then opened “Baby It’s You!” in the spring of 2011, and was Tony nominated for the latter.
Mark Rylance – He was in “La Bête” in the fall of 2010, then opened “Jerusalem” in the spring of 2011, and he won his second Tony for the latter.
Jeremy Jordan – He opened (and closed) “Bonnie and Clyde” in December of 2011, then went on to open “Newsies” in the spring of 2012, and was Tony nominated for the latter.
Danny Burstein – He appeared in “The Snow Geese” in the fall of 2013, then opened “Cabaret” in the spring of 2014, and he received his fifth Tony nomination for the latter.
Christian Borle – He starred in “Falsettos” in the fall of 2016, then opened “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in the spring of 2017, yet in this case he was Tony nominated for the former.
Jefferson Mays – He had “The Front Page” in the fall of 2016, then opened “Oslo” in the spring of 2017, and was Tony nominated for the latter.
Mary Beth Peil – She co-starred in “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” in the fall of 2016, then opened “Anastasia” in the spring of 2017, and was Tony nominated for the latter.
Add to that the six actors who have managed to be nominated in two categories for two different roles in the same year. They are Amanda Plummer (“A Taste of Honey” and “Agnes of God” in 1982), Dana Ivey (“Heartbreak House” and “Sunday in the Park with George” in 1984), Kate Burton (“Hedda Gabler” and “The Elephant Man” in 2002), Jan Maxwell (“The Royal Family” and “Lend Me a Tenor” in 2010), the aforementioned Mark Rylance (“Richard III” and “Twelfth Night” in 2014), and Jeremy Pope (“Choir Boy” and “Ain’t Too Proud” in 2019).
While it’s possible that Dirden could split his support overall (especially given that both of his credits will have him eligible for Best Featured Actor in a Play), I think he might have a better shot of getting in for “Skeleton Crew” instead of “Take Me Out,” even though history shows it’s more common to be nominated for the more recent production. In this case, “Take Me Out” is an ensemble piece that consists entirely of men, so Tony nominators will have a lot of other performances to choose from including Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Michael Oberholtzer. “Skeleton Crew” was an ensemble piece too, but a smaller one where Dirden doesn’t have nearly as much competition from co-stars.
Then again, double performances don’t always work out. J.K. Simmons had two major roles on Broadway during the 1991-92 theater season: first as Captain Hook in a revival of “Peter Pan” starring Cathy Rigby, then as Benny Southstreet in the Jerry Zaks-helmed revival of “Guys and Dolls” (featuring the aforementioned Faith Prince). But he was completely ignored by the Tonys that year. As of this writing Dirden is in eighth place for a Best Featured Actor in a Play nomination for “Skeleton Crew” with 22/1 odds based on Gold Derby’s combined predictions. Will he make the cut?
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