The theater awards season begins every year in early May and ends with the Tonys in June, and in between there is a steady stream of receptions, luncheons, cocktail parties, meet-and-greets, award shows and other events. While still performing as much as eight times a week in their shows, the actors show up at these press events, do interviews, smile, act charming, and often completely win you over, as they did last night in the press room at the Drama Desk Awards at Town Hall.
The Drama Desk Awards - the last big event leading up to the Tonys - was co-hosted Sunday evening by Brooke Shields and Brian d’Arcy James (“Smash”). The awards are given by a group of theater critics, writers and editors to reward excellence in New York theater on Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway. And for the Broadway actors, the Drama Desk ceremony also gives them a chance to practice their award-winning speeches one last time before they have to do it at the Tonys, live on national television. Not that the Drama Desk Awards invite a tea-leaf reading of what it going to happen at the Tonys. Just as an example, in 1909, “9 to 5,” the Dolly Parton-scored musical based on the film of the same name, received 15 nominations, a record for the Drama Desk, but when the Tonys rolled around, “9 to 5” received only four Tony nominations and didn’t win any.
Judy Kaye told us last night she saw no connection between winning a Drama Desk Award and winning a Tony. She had just won a Drama Desk Award for best featured actress in a musical for “Nice Work If you Can Get It,” her first Drama Desk win she told us. She was sanguine about her chances of winning a Tony Award though. She told us that when she was in “Phantom of the Opera,” “I was nominated for the Drama Desk. I didn’t win it, but I won the Tony,” she said. “I’ve been to this dance, I can’t even tell you how many times.”
This year though the Drama Desk may be on the mark when it comes to predicting the big winners on Tony night. The musical “Once,” based on the 2006 feature film about a love affair between a Czech flower seller and an Irish street musician who make music and fall in love in Dublin, lead the Drama Desk Awards with four wins, for best musical, director (John Tiffany), lyrics (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) and orchestrations. The musical has received 11 Tony nominations, more than any other production, and the Drama Desk wins give it extra momentum for the Tonys.
Following with three Drama Desk Awards each, were Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” (best revival, director, lighting design), “One Man, Two Guvnors,” for best actor (James Corden), featured actor (Tom Edden) and best music in a play, and the Gershwin musical “Nice Work If You Can Get it), for best featured actor and actress (Michael McGrath and Judy Kaye) and outstanding book of a musical for Joe DiPietro.
“Tribes,” Nina Raine’s off-Broadway play was named best play, beating out the Broadway productions of David Henry Hwang’s “Chinglish” and Nicky Silver’s “The Lyons,” along with the off-Broadway production of Lynn Nottage’s critically-acclaimed play, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark.”
The Irish actor Cillian Murphy received a Drama Desk Award for best solo performance for “Misterman,” beating out Dennis O’Hare, who won an Outer Critics Circle Award in this category.