African Americans were well represented at the 65th annual Drama Desk Awards, televised on NY1. “A Strange Loop,” a musical written by African American Michael R. Jackson, won five Drama Desk honors, including the top honor for best musical. “A Strange Loop” depicts Jackson, a gay, heavy-set young man, speaking about his experience as a big, gay, Black man who felt rejected by his parents, awkward, and unloved. Presented by Playwrights Horizons and Page 73 productions, it also won Drama Desk awards for both book of a musical and lyrics. Stephen Brackett won for outstanding director of a musical, and Larry Owens won for outstanding actor in a musical.
Adrienne Warren, one of the most stunning performers I’ve ever seen, won a well-deserved Drama Desk Award for her title role as Tina Turner in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” When Broadway is back you must make plans to see this phenomenal production. You’ve never seen anything like it!
I was so excited when “A Soldier’s Play,” presented by Roundabout Theatre Company, was on Broadway. This production was astonishing, and that was echoed at the Drama Desk Awards as it won outstanding revival of a play. Director Kenny Leon spoke of his appreciation for the production being presented at the American Airlines Theatre. The production was also honored with outstanding fight choreography for Thomas Schall.
Martha Redbone won the Drama Desk for outstanding music in a play for “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.” A play which truly caught my attention was Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven,” presented by the Atlantic Theater Company/LAByrinth Theater Company. I was thrilled when Liza Colon-Zayas won for outstanding actress in a play. Colon-Zayas talked about how wonderful it was to work with Guirgis and the play’s director John Ortiz.
The 65th annual Drama Desk awards created a special award, The Harold Prince Award, in honor of the late producer and director, and several people spoke about this great theater maker. Broadway performer Norm Lewis, who worked with Prince when he became the first African American to play Phantom in the Broadway musical, summed it all up: “Hal Prince is the King of Broadway.”
Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald presented the special awards. The Ensemble Award went to a cappella musical Octet; the Sam Norkin Award was presented to Mary Bacon; an award went to The Actors Fund, Seth Rudetsky, James Wesley and medical contributor Jonathan LaPook, M.D. for connecting members of the theater community, lifting spirits and keeping everyone informed during the coronavirus crisis. The Public Theater’s Mobile Unit was honored for its work touring free Shakespeare at prisons, homeless shelters and community centers. WP Theater and the late Julia Miles were also honored for the company’s over 40 year history of nurturing and producing works by female-identified creators. Claire Warden was also honored for her pioneering work as an intimacy choreographer. McDonald presenting this was incredibly appropriate as she had experienced Warden’s talents when she was the intimacy choreographer for McDonald during her last Broadway production starring as Frankie in “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune.”
I can’t wait until we’re all back together again at the theater. While our lives are changed by the pandemic and live theater is on hold, those of the artists are being devastated. If you are able to donate to help support the arts, please do so at actorsfund.org.