Tony Awards are off, so we present the Charlie Awards: Best theater of the decade
The Tony Awards were supposed to be held on Sunday, but the pandemic darkened Broadway just as the 2019-20 season was kicking into high gear.
“Six,” the much-buzzed-about musical about the wives of “Henry VIII,” was scheduled to open on March 12, the day the theaters were closed. The new revival of “Company,” starring Katrina Lenk as a female “Bobbie” and Patti LuPone as one of the ladies who lunch, was still in previews. So too was “Diana,” the splashy musical about Princess Di that was launched at La Jolla Playhouse.
Some shows, including an eagerly awaited revival of the Tony Kushner-Jeanine Tesori musical “Caroline, or Change,” have been rescheduled for next season. But, sadly, the production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” starring Laurie Metcalf and Rupert Everett and the Broadway premiere of Martin McDonagh’s “Hangmen,” both of which were in previews, have been called off.
Despite Broadway’s abrupt suspension, there was no shortage of work to acknowledge. I was looking forward to celebrating Jeremy O. Harris’ path-breaking “Slave Play,” thrillingly directed by Robert O’Hara, and was ready to go to the mat for Ivo van Hove’s multimedia reconstruction of “West Side Story.”
I also was eager to salute Laura Linney for her emotionally translucent solo turn in “My Name Is Lucy Barton” and hoped to see Mary-Louise Parker and her costar Will Hochman feted for their seamless work in Adam Rapp’s “The Sound Inside.” I assumed no one would forget Jamie Lloyd’s pitch-perfect revival of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” with Tom Hiddleston and longed to see Adrienne Warren properly extolled for her star-making performance in the title role of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.”
But instead of choosing the best from an incomplete list, I decided to play a different game. Looking back at the last 10 years of Tony winners, I came up with my own nominations and winners for the Charlie Awards, representing the crème de la crème of Broadway from 2010 through 2019.
Awards are subjective, and this exercise reminded me just how capricious they are. Picking winners among categories of disparate greatness entailed fiery arguments with myself. For lead actor in a play, a field so rich I found no room for Denzel Washington’s thunderous performance in “Fences,” I kept changing my mind so often I was on the verge of sending myself divorce papers. For best play, a weaker group reflecting not only the historical timidity of producers but also the refusal of the Tony Awards to distinguish excellence in playwriting from excellence in production, I wanted to change my own procedures and nominate Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced,” Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” and Heidi Schreck’s “What the Constitution Means to Me,” even though they didn’t win in their respective years.
But a game is only fun if you stick to the arbitrary rules. The Tonys are for hailing virtuosity. The Charlies are for remembering it and arguing over it. Have at me! You won’t be the first to give me hell for my scorecard. I’ve been hollering at myself for days.
Featured actress in a musical
Katie Finneran, “Promises, Promises”
Ruthie Ann Miles, “The King and I”
Renée Elise Goldsberry, “Hamilton”
Lindsay Mendez, “Carousel”
Ali Stroker, “Oklahoma!”
Winner: Renée Elise Goldsberry, “Hamilton.” The Founding Fathers made “Hamilton” rock but Goldberry raised the show’s pulse with the swagger and style of her deeply felt performance.
Featured actor in a musical
James Monroe Iglehart, “Aladdin”
Christian Borle, “Something Rotten!”
Daveed Diggs, “Hamilton”
Ari’el Stachel, “The Band’s Visit”
André De Shields, “Hadestown”
Winner: André De Shields, “Hadestown.” A musical theater performance that combined the disciplined freedom and nonchalant style of a great jazz soloist.
Featured actress in a play
Ellen Barkin, “The Normal Heart”
Sophie Okonedo, “A Raisin in the Sun”
Jayne Houdyshell, “The Humans”
Laurie Metcalf, “Three Tall Women”
Celia Keenan-Bolger, “To Kill a Mockingbird”
Winner: Jayne Houdyshell, “The Humans.” Playing a mother who’s accustomed to being taken for granted, Houdyshell created a portrait of perseverance that was often heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time.
Featured actor in a play
John Benjamin Hickey, “The Normal Heart”
Christian Borle, “Peter and the Starcatcher”
Mark Rylance, “Twelfth Night”
Reed Birney, “The Humans”
Nathan Lane, “Angels in America”
Winner: Mark Rylance, “Twelfth Night.” Playing Olivia in “Twelfth Night,” Rylance delivered the subtlest drag performance since Shakespeare’s female characters were first created by boys on the Elizabethan stage.
Best revival, play
“The Normal Heart”
“Death of a Salesman”
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
“A Raisin in the Sun”
“A View From the Bridge”
Winner: “A Raisin in the Sun.” The overwhelming emotion generated by a dream ensemble that included Denzel Washington, LaTanya Richardson, Anika Noni Rose and Sophie Okonedo set this revival apart.
Best revival, musical
“Porgy and Bess”
“The King and I”
Winner: “Hello, Dolly!” Jerry Zaks’ production wasn’t especially innovative or even boldly adventurous, but it provided pure musical comedy ecstasy even when Bette Midler wasn’t wrapping the audience around her finger.
Best director, play
Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, “War Horse”
Mike Nichols, “Death of a Salesman”
Pam MacKinnon, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Ivo van Hove, “A View From the Bridge”
Rebecca Taichman, “Indecent”
Winner: Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, “War Horse.” Elliott and Morris balanced pageantry, puppetry and profound feeling in a war story of epic scope that never lost its human dimension or equine grace.
Best director, musical
Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, “The Book of Mormon”
Diane Paulus, “Pippin”
Sam Gold, “Fun Home”
Thomas Kail, “Hamilton”
Rachel Chavkin, “Hadestown”
Winner: Rachel Chavkin, “Hadestown.” The sultry lyricism of Chavkin’s integrative staging was as much a part of the authorship of “Hadestown” as Anaïs Mitchell’s book and magnificent score.
Lead Actor in a Musical
Douglas Hodge, “La Cage aux Folles”
Michael Cerveris, “Fun Home”
Leslie Odom Jr., “Hamilton”
Ben Platt, “Dear Evan Hansen”
Santino Fontana, “Tootsie”
Winner: Michael Cerveris. Playing a closeted gay father, Cerveris turned in quite simply the most finely layered dramatic performance I’ve seen in a musical.
Lead actress in a musical
Sutton Foster, “Anything Goes”
Audra McDonald, “Porgy & Bess”
Jessie Mueller, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”
Kelli O’Hara, “The King and I”
Cynthia Erivo, “The Color Purple”
Winner: Cynthia Erivo, “The Color Purple.” Erivo’s transcendent turn as Celie was not only the best Broadway debut in recent memory — it was a religious experience that had even the most devout unbelievers shouting “Hallelujah!” at the end.
Lead actor in a play
Mark Rylance, “Jerusalem”
James Corden, “One Man, Two Guvnors”
Tracy Letts, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Bryan Cranston, “All the Way”
Andrew Garfield, “Angels in America”
Winner: Tracy Letts, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Rylance should win for lightning brilliance, Corden for sublime slapstick, Cranston for theatrical muscularity and Garfield for aching vulnerability. But Letts gets the nod for an unshowy performance that seized attention with every passive-aggressive slouch and grimace while illuminating the power dynamics of a marriage in a modern masterpiece that suddenly seemed newly understood.
Lead actress in a play
Viola Davis, “Fences”
Cicely Tyson, “The Trip to Bountiful”
Laurie Metcalf, “A Doll’s House, Part 2”
Glenda Jackson, “Three Tall Women”
Elaine May, “The Waverly Gallery”
Winner: Cicely Tyson, “The Trip to Bountiful.” In another category of riches, I decided finally on Tyson for a portrayal that was as shimmeringly spiritual as it was rooted in the real.
Best book of a musical
Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, “The Book of Mormon”
Lisa Kron, “Fun Home”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton”
Steven Levenson, “Dear Evan Hansen”
Robert Horn, “Tootsie”
Winner: Lisa Kron, “Fun Home.” In a dramaturgical triumph, Kron endowed Alison Bechdel’s incomparable graphic memoir with a three-dimensional stage life that showed just how psychologically complex a vivacious musical could be.
Best original score
“The Bridges of Madison County” by Jason Robert Brown
“Fun Home” by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron
“Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda
“Dear Evan Hansen” by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
“Hadestown” by Anaïs Mitchell
Winner: “Hamilton.” Miranda’s blend of hip-hop, R&B and Broadway pop, the rocket fuel of a show that flew higher and faster than had been previously thought possible, permanently transformed the sound of Broadway.
Winner: “The Humans.” At first glance, Stephen Karam’s drama seems like a scrupulously observed family drama, but on closer inspection the play, more mysterious than a straightforward ensemble vehicle, produces an X-ray of the anxious American soul.
“Dear Evan Hansen”
“The Band’s Visit”
Winner: “Hamilton.” I never wanted “Hadestown” to end, so intense was the bluesy bliss and “The Scottsboro Boys” should be on the list (in fact, I erroneously kept putting in on), but “Hamilton” was a true watershed, a show that made Broadway not only cool again but more equitable and embracingly inclusive.
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