Just as the Tony Awards celebrate great achievements in theater showcased on the legendary New York street Broadway, the Lucille Lortel Awards recognizes immense success in Off Broadway productions. This award is the namesake of Lucille Lortel, who was a successful producer and actress in the American Theater.
In this piece we would like to showcase some of the winners of the 2016 Lucille Lortel Awards for Off Broadway productions.
While The Christians, Eclipsed, Gloria and John were all nominated for this particular category, it was Guards at the Taj that would take home the award this year for Outstanding Play in the Lucille Lortel Awards.
It is the story of two guards, Humayun and Babur, who are positioned to watch over the construction of the Taj Mahal. The plot highlights the vast differences of social divides between those who built the Taj Mahal and those that were high enough in society to enjoy the sight.
Our two guards are given the rules, which include that they cannot speak, lower their swords and, above all, are not allowed to turn around and look at the Taj Mahal. They are required to keep their backs to it while on guard. Of course, the two break the rules and converse. It is eventually revealed that the folks who works so laboriously on the building think they are going to get a chance to attend the unveiling but this upsets the ruler and they end up being murdered viciously.
The winner of this category for the year 2016 is FUTURITY, a story surrounding Julian and Ada. Julian is a soldier during the Civil War who dreams of a serene technological future. Ada is lives far from Julian and is a genius with math. They both try to “imagine” themselves out of “impossible circumstances.”
Originally produced with funds provided by the National Fund for New Musicals, which is a program for the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, FUTURITY follows these two characters as they come up with an idea to create a “machine to end one of the darkest periods in our history.”
The review in the New York Times called it “some of the loveliest and inventive music you can hear on a New York stage right now” while Culturebot said that FUTURITY is “indelibly human-made.”
In this category several revivals were nominated but it was The Robber Bridegroom that took home the prize. With book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry and tunes composed by Robert Waldman The Robber Bridegroom was based on the Eudora Welty novella published in 1942.
Originally produced on Broadway in 1975 this musical follows a character named Jamie Lockhart who has Robinhood like tendencies. This production, produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company, is directed by Alex Timbers and stars Steven Pasquale as the lead character.
The previews for this Off Broadway revival were held at the Laura Pels Theatre in February but had its official opening in March. The doors closed on this production just last May.
Outstanding Solo Show
This one-woman show, Grounded, was performed by Anne Hathaway as an Air Force pilot. Written by George Brant, the New York Times called Hathaway’s performance “fiercely good” as she plays a pilot who showers Iraq and Afghanistan with bombs.
Hathaway becomes a short-haired with a southern drawl who has a more masculine way about her. It is evident that this character “would much rather be knocking back beers with her fellow pilots” than indulging in more feminine tasks.
Yet, when she finds a man who considers her masculinity attractive, this pilot who loves to be in the air finds herself in love and pregnant, which eventually grounds her behind a desk. She calls it “the pilot’s nightmare.” Yet she finds that she is controlling the drones that the US ha used regularly in the Middle East. While our female pilot is required to do her duty she does not pretend to love her new position, a job she has dubbed as the “chair force.”
Liesl Tommy was this year’s winner of the Lucille Lortel Award for his work on Eclipsed. Written by Danai Gurira this dramatic story surround a group of Liberian woman and how they endured after the Second Liberian Civil War.
The reviews for this Off Broadway production, which was staged at The Public Theater, were unanimously positive, so it is no wonder the director won this award. It wasn’t long before this play went on to Broadway, opening at the John Golden Theatre March of this year.
Set in a shack that consists of one room and walls filled with bullet holes, this place is the camp for the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy. It follows a tale of kidnap and rape and all the horrors that war inflicts on its victims.
As for the director, Tommy was born in Cape Town, South Africa during apartheid. Her family moved to Massachusetts when she was fifteen and she found an early love of the theatre at a young age. She followed this through her high school years at Newton North High and further studied at the conservatory in London. She was able to do this through a joint program at Brown University.
Other credits are Party People, The White Man – A Complex Declaration of Love and Peggy Picket Sees the Face of God.
For her work in Angel Reapers Martha Clarke took home the prize in this category for 2016. Clarke is renowned for her versatile styles when it comes to her work in theatre productions, particularly where dance is concerned. She is a founding member of the Pilobolus Dance Theatre and has choreographed dances for many prestigious companies, including Nederlans Dans Theater, American Ballet Theatre, Rambert Dance Company and The Martha Graham Company.
Other works Clarke is known for include Endangered Species, An Uncertain Hour, The Hunger Artist, Garden of Earthly Delights and Vienna: Lusthaus. She has also worked extensively in opera as director of The Magic flute for the Glimmerglass Opera and the Canadian Opera Company.
She has worked with Pulitzer prize-winner Alfred Uhry, toured with The Joyce Theatre and created L’altra metá del cielo in the spring of 2012 for the La Scala Opera in Milan. Clarke was also awarded the Dance Magazine Award in 2013.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical
The Robber Bridegroom also took home the award in this category, or more specifically Steven Pasquale for playing the lead role of Jamie Lockhart. Born in Hershey, Pennsylvania Pasquale is more widely known as Sean Garrity, a firefighter, EMT in the FX comedy-drama Rescue Me with Dennis Leary.
Other notable works by Pasquale are Six Feet Under, an HBO series, and the movie Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem among many others.
For The Robber Bridegroom, the reviews for Pasquale were consistently positive. Entertainment Weekly said, “The cast – notably Steven Pasquale…is spectacular” while The New York Times wrote that Pasquale “plies his voice of gold and matinee-idol swagger to ingratiatingly eccentric comic effect.”
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical
Annette O’Toole’s performance in Southern Comfort won her this award for 2016. The story follows a transgender group of friends not conforming to societies expectations in pastoral Georgia.
Based on the documentary movie that won the jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001 the cast of Southern Comfort was called “entirely winning” by The New York Times. Specifically, they wrote about O’Toole that she “has disappeared inside her character, drawing a moving, indelible portrait of a man who retains an unflappable spirit…”
Other works O’Toole is noted for is Lana Lang in Superman 3 and the mother of Clark Kent in Smallville.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play
Timothée Chalamet won this award for his Off Broadway performance in Prodigal Son. This play, which was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, follows a young boy, Chalamet, who is from the Bronx. He is enrolled in a private New Hampshire school and while he is gifted he is also violent and a loner.
As for Chalamet’s portrayal of the lead character Jim Quinn The New York Times called him “gifted” and The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Chalamet plays the conflicted sides of Jim with raw conviction.”
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play
In the Lead Actress category, we have Mrs. Huxtable herself, Phylicia Rashad for her performance in Head of Passes. This drama was inspired by the Book of Job and takes a close look at the family unit and the power of faith and acceptance. The New York Times called her “remarkable” and said that it was a “pull-out-all-the-stops performance” for the legendary actress.
They go on to say that Rashad was impactful and “she could definitely hold her own on Shakespeare’s blasted heath.”
Her role in Head of Passes is the “matriarch” of a Southern family who is “dominating.” The play opens on a celebration with her family and friends for her birthday. Yet, outside their comfortable home a storm brews over the Gulf, the roof is leaking and the conflict will rise with the storm.