The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) announced that “Good Night, Oscar” by Doug Wright is a finalist for their 2023 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award. This prize honors plays which had their professional premiere outside of New York City, with this new work debuting at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago this past spring. With one awards body already giving their stamp of approval, is “Good Night, Oscar” headed for a Tony nomination for Best Play?
This new work will open on Broadway on April 24, just days before the eligibility window closes for the 2023 Tony Awards. The story is set in 1958 on the set of “The Tonight Show” hosted by Jack Parr. The host has booked his most coveted guest: the witty talk show staple Oscar Levant. Emmy winner and Tony nominee Sean Hayes portrays Levant after a string of rave notices in Chicago, making this one of the most anticipated star turns of the spring.
WATCH 2023 Tony Awards slugfest: 22 productions vie for places in Play races
While Hayes’ performance is highly anticipated, we shouldn’t count out playwright Doug Wright from the Best Play race. Wright previously won the category for his Broadway debut with “I Am My Own Wife” (coincidentally, that show also won Jefferson Mays his first Tony Award for his signature shape shifting abilities. The actor is once again a Tony contender this year for playing all the roles in a solo version of “A Christmas Carol”). Wright was Tony-nominated again, this time for Best Book of a Musical, for his work on “Grey Gardens.” He would go on to be represented on Broadway with his books for “The Little Mermaid,” “Hands on a Hardbody,” and “War Paint.” In addition, his 1996 play “Quills” earned him an Obie Award. That play became a feature film, netting Wright a Writers Guild Award and a Golden Globe nomination.
ATCA’s New Play Award has little crossover with the Tonys since this critics group specifically looks beyond the scope of NYC. But, when a Broadway-bound script winds up on their list, the play almost always snags a Tony nomination when it opens in New York. August Wilson won ATCA’s New Play prize three times, for “Fences,” “The Piano Lesson,” and “Two Trains Running.” “Fences” would go on to win Best Play at the Tonys, while the latter two works were nominees. Wilson was also a finalist for “Seven Guitars,” “Jitney,” “King Hedley II,” “Gem of the Ocean,” and “Radio Golf.” Those shows all reaped Best Play bids for their Broadway bows (except for “Jitney” which was instead nominated for Revival of a Play due to the Tony Awards’ “classic” rule).
Other plays which appeared as ATCA finalists before getting their Tony glory are Best Play winners “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” and “All the Way,” and Best Play nominees “33 Variations” and “Time Stands Still.” Of course, there is an exception to every rule: the one Broadway-bound play to be recognized by ATCA which failed to earn a Tony nomination is Noah Haidle’s recent “Birthday Candles.” That show was totally skunked by Tony nominators despite being an ATCA finalist for its premiere in Detroit. Ironically, the Broadway iteration starred Hayes’ former “Will & Grace” castmate Debra Messing.
“Good Night, Oscar” currently sits in 13th place for Best Play according to our exclusive combined odds. But this ranking would seem to be less a reflection of the talent involved, and more to do with the fact that the play hasn’t opened yet. The production won’t even begin preview performances until April 7. With the backing of the ATCA, Doug Wright’s “Good Night, Oscar” stands to advance in our rankings as it marches to opening night.
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