“I’m a little numb, to be honest,” joked actress Katrina Lenk from the red carpet of the Lucille Lortel Awards. “There’s so much happening and I’m just like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on!’’” Lenk, who took home the Lortel Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Dina in Atlantic Theater Company’s production of The Band’s Visit, felt the excitement in the room as Keegan-Michael Key walked past her. “There’s Key!” she raved.
Stage and screen stars took to NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on May 7 to celebrate excellence in Off-Broadway theatre at the 32nd annual award ceremony. Winners included Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Oslo for Outstanding Play and The Band’s Visit for Outstanding Musical, with additional nominees including MCC Theater’s production of Ride the Cyclone, New York Theatre Workshop’s production of Hadestown and more. Taran Killam, who recently finished a run as Hamilton’s King George III, hosted.
“The most exciting voices have their start Off-Broadway,” said Dear Evan Hansen's Tony-nominated book writer Steven Levenson, who was there to represent the musical on the occasion of its Lortel nomination for the 2016 Off-Broadway production. “I feel like I saw all of the actors that I now know and love Off-Broadway first. It’s where you find the people that you’re going to see on Broadway later on, and the playwrights whose work I love the most.”
Tony nominee Mike Faist and Laura Dreyfuss who star as Connor and Zoe Murphy, respectively, in Dear Evan Hansen, both attribute much of the success of the show’s Broadway run to the development it went through at Second Stage Theatre. “We wouldn’t be on Broadway if we didn’t have our Off-Broadway experience,” said Faist. “It was really an important time and we wouldn’t be where we are if it weren’t for our Off-Broadway run.”
Dear Evan Hansen, which was also nominated for nine 2017 Tony Awards, was joined by Indecent and Oslo as one of three Lortel contenders that transferred to Broadway this year after successful Off-Broadway runs. Indecent, which had its Off-Broadway run at the Vineyard Theatre, marks playwright Paula Vogel’s Broadway debut.
“The truth of the matter is I owe my life and my career to the Vineyard Theatre,” said Vogel. “Twenty years ago we won the Lortel for How I Learned to Drive at the Vineyard and so I’m feeling this wonderful circle and incredible gratitude for my collaborators.” Vogel went on to discuss how Off-Broadway productions should be celebrated daily because of the new American plays that are born on Off-Broadway stages each season. “I’m hoping that many, many more plays launch from Off-Broadway to Broadway,” she added.
Ben Platt, Taran Killam, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and More at the 2017 Lucille Lortel Awards
Hadestown creator and first-time nominee Anaïs Mitchell expressed her newfound love for Off-Broadway theatre after making her debut with the musical. “There’s a lot of risk-taking, camaraderie and real commitment to the art before the commerce of the piece,” said Mitchell. “I so appreciate getting to be a part of that community.” In discussing the future of Hadestown, Mitchell said that she hopes to see the show take on as many lives as it can. “We’re trying to make the strongest show that we can and we’re hopeful for the future,” she explained.
The Lortel Awards allowed many performers and creators to celebrate their first nominations. Among them were Will Davis, who directed Jaclyn Backhaus’ Men on Boats at Playwrights Horizons, Amber Gray, who starred as Persephone in Hadestown at NYTW and Randy Graff who took home the Lortel for Outstanding Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Frieda Cohen in Lincoln Center Theater’s The Babylon Line.
On the opposite end of that spectrum was costume designer William Ivey Long, presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on 60 Off-Broadway shows. “I really didn’t realize I’d done so many Broadway shows, and I had never realized I’d done almost the same exact number of Off-Broadway shows,” said Long. “This made me count!”
Long, who knew Lortel herself and worked on a production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre when it was known as the Theatre de Lys, explained that he feels that Off-Broadway is where everything starts. “Off-Broadway audiences are seriously focused on the arts, on the new, the next, and that’s where you want to try out your really good stuff to see if it works,” he said. “It’s sort of like preaching to the choir, showing to the choir.”
The night’s two other honorary awards—an induction to the Playwrights’ Sidewalk and the Edith Oliver Service to Off-Broadway Award—were presented to playwright and new Tony nominee Lynn Nottage and producer Harold Wolpert, respectively.
Each performer and creator who attended the awards expressed their love for and commitment to keeping Off-Broadway theatre cutting-edge and daring. “These artists do it because they love it,” said Stephanie J. Block, who presented the award for Outstanding Sound Design. “You love the work, you love your fellow actors, and you love the piece. The gems are found in some of the smallest and maybe the least celebrated theatres in the corners of New York and so Off-Off-Broadway and Off-Broadway are vitally important for the theatre community.”
For a full list of winner’s click here.
Joe Gambino is a writer, illustrator, performer, and Broadway lottery loser who lives in New York. Follow him on Twitter @_joegambino_.