Marianne Elliott, the British director who sent ‘Angels in America’ back into flight

Marianne Elliott, accepting the Olivier Award in April in London for the National Theatre revival of "Angels in America," now on Broadway and up for 11 Tony Awards.
(John Phillips / Getty Images)

You take the helm of a play with near-universal regard as a masterpiece, a Pulitzer winner that picked up seven Tony Awards its first time on Broadway.

No pressure, right?

Marianne Elliott, the British director behind the revival of “Angels in America,” clearly welcomes a challenge. With a staging that feels at once spare and full of life, Elliott’s National Theatre production — first in London, now in New York — has been wringing adjectives from critics: vivid, funny, elegant, clever, striking, enthralling.

Elliott has spoken about the pull of Tony Kushner’s epic tale of Reagan-era America, about how the glorious journey begins as a domestic drama and unfolds into a viscerally political, stunningly surreal, angel-crashing-through-ceiling spectacle worthy of its subtitle, “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.”


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Steering such a complicated mix has put Elliott in contention for the Tony for direction of a play. It’s a tough category that also includes John Tiffany, who worked pure wizardry into “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” and Joe Mantello, who led the critically lauded production of “Three Tall Women” that’s breaking house box-office records over at the Golden Theatre.

Tony voters have proved an affinity for Elliott’s work, though. She has two previous wins for “War Horse” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” making her the only female director with that distinction.

The subject of gender is inevitable in a year when both director categories have just one female nominee — Elliott in the play category, Tina Landau of “SpongeBob SquarePants” in the musical category.

If Elliott and Landau win on Sunday, they will mark only the third time in the 72-year history of the Tony Awards that both winning directors were women. In fact, the total number of winning female directors across all years can be counted on two hands.


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In a Times interview last year, when the “Curious Incident” tour came to L.A., Elliott said she didn’t get into directing until her late 20s. In her youth, she said, she assumed directors had to be men.

But once she got into the field, she was all in. For “Angels,” her team worked for a year and a half before rehearsals even started, she said.

“There are 76 scenes which required very specific and different settings and aesthetics, and it was absolutely daunting,” she told told writer Barbara Isenberg. And it wasn’t just the amount of time that “Angels” required. It was the sheer intellectual and emotional commitment of Kushner’s work.

“The writing is so powerful that by mere osmosis you take it in,” she said. “It is full of anxiety, paranoia, desperation, terrible isolation and doom.”

An impossible task? “I suppose there is something enticing about ‘the impossible,’” she said.

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‘Angels in America’

Total Tony nominations: 11

Other key races: Revival of a play, featured actor in a play (Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn), featured actress in a play (Denise Gough as Harper)

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