Tough choices for the Tonys
A year of strong dramas, tragedies, and farce made for a tight race.
In the midst of the worst recession in decades, the Broadway theater industry faced a series of daunting financial challenges in early 2009. Box office grosses were down across the board, and nearly a dozen theaters had no tenants for the usually bustling spring season. So creative theater owners and producers sprang into action with a somewhat unlikely formula. Rather than assemble the usual raft of shiny, big-budget spectacles often adapted from famous film properties, they anticipated the mood of audiences and offered up a series of dark, serious dramas and pitch-black comedies, a number of which ruminate on alienation and death yet are shot through with illuminating wit.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
To insulate themselves against losses, producers cast bold-face name stars (Oscar winners such as Susan Sarandon, Geoffrey Rush, and Jeremy Irons; TV icons such as James Gandolfini, Allison Janney, and John Goodman; and cinema legends such as Jane Fonda and Angela Lansbury). All were eager to stretch their acting muscles by bringing to life complex characters in classic dramas or whip-smart tragicomedies. Producers also employed a tried-and-true blueprint for Broadway success – importing hit productions from overseas (among this season's entries: Frederick Schiller's "Mary Stuart" and Alan Ayckbourn's farce "The Norman Conquests").
What emerged was one of the most memorable seasons on Broadway in recent years, which will be celebrated on June 7 with the 63rd annual Tony awards honoring the best and brightest of the 2008-09 season.
With economic storm clouds gathering, black comedy was in abundance. Look no further than two of the top nominees in the most competitive Tony category, Best Revival of a Play: the first Broadway remounting of Beckett's classic "Waiting for Godot" in more than 50 years (starring Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, and John Goodman) and Alan Ayckbourn's 1970s trilogy, "The Norman Conquests." One of the most important artistic works of the 20th century, "Godot" combines the silly and the somber in its story of a couple of bedraggled hobos waxing nonsensical and poetical while facing the existential void. And while "The Norman Conquests" trilogy is ostensibly a sex farce about two characters' attempt to sneak off for a "dirty weekend" in the country, its ensemble of damaged and self-involved souls grasp for meaningful connection and a respite from the mire of their lives. As the three plays unfold, the hopes, unfulfilled dreams, and regrets of the characters are illuminated in increasingly profound ways.