Hamilton's Big Night at the Drama Desk Awards and What It Means for Next Week's Tonys
May Drama Desk wins often presage June Tony wins, but will that be true in a year in which an off-Broadway musical dominates?
Hamilton won big at the Drama Desks. The hip-hop spectacular about America's first Treasury Secretary won seven awards including the triple crown of Outstanding Book, Outstanding Music, and Outstanding Lyrics — all going to the show's author and star Lin-Manuel Miranda. Additionally, Hamilton became the first off-Broadway show since Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's Little Shop of Horrors to take the prize for Outstanding Musical (that was in 1983, when Miranda was three years old).
A visibly emotional Miranda contemplated what it meant to be joining such an elite club. "I'm in the musical theater because Alan Menken and Howard Ashman swept me off my feet with The Little Mermaid when I was nine years old," he said, adding, "It's such an honor to get to share company with that team and their incredible show."
While Little Shop is one of the most popular musicals for high school drama clubs and community theaters to produce, the Broadway-bound Hamilton is still years away from licensing rights to amateur companies. That doesn't mean Miranda isn't already thinking about it. "That's the part I can't wait for," he said. "I'm savoring every moment of this, but I also want to press the fast-forward button. I feel like I'm writing the shows I would have killed to do in high school." The theatrical circle of life continues.
It's rare for an off-Broadway musical to receive this much acclaim at the Drama Desk Awards. Insiders often look to the Desks as an early indicator of what will happen at the Tonys (which consider only Broadway). While the profile of the Drama Desk (125 theater journalists) is very different than that of the Tony voters (an eclectic mix of 844 producers, artists, theater owners, critics, and the ever-inscrutable "road voters," or people who present touring Broadway shows), their picks often line up: Seven out of 10 of the last Outstanding Musical Drama Desk Awards also won the Best Musical category at the Tonys. Obviously, that is impossible this year, making 2015's Tony race for Best Musical (as well as book and score) one of the most intriguing in recent memory. Still, we can see favorites emerging in other categories.
London import The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of those favorites. Following the story of a socially challenged math genius, it won six Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Play. It picked up three design awards (Outstanding Lighting, Projections, and Sound) and director Marianne Elliott won the Outstanding Direction of a Play award. She looks like the odds-on favorite to win the Tony for Best Direction of a Play next week.
Alex Sharp stars as Christopher Boone, the central character in Curious Incident. He was quick to recognize the efforts of his costars and the show's creators. "This award is not just mine. I get to be Christopher, but so much goes into it," he said, highlighting the extraordinary work of the design team who helps the audience see and hear through Christopher's eyes and ears. "It's all about his brain," Sharp noted. For his part, Sharp won the Drama Desk for Outstanding Actor in a Play. He may very well take the Tony for Leading Actor in a Play next week.
Less likely to win the Tony in his category is Robert Fairchild, the star of An American in Paris. He won the Drama Desk for Outstanding Actor in a Musical, but the only co-nominee he'll see at the Tonys is Brian d'Arcy James (Something Rotten!). Fairchild will face stiff competition from Michael Cerveris of Fun Home, a show that was considered by the Drama Desk last year for its off-Broadway incarnation. Also look out for dark horse Tony Yazbeck, who gives a winning performance in Broadway's On the Town and is set to headline that show's national tour (hello, road voters).
Among the ladies, On the Twentieth Century star Kristin Chenoweth won the Drama Desk for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. She bested Leanne Cope (An American in Paris) and Chita Rivera (The Visit), two of her fellow Tony nominees, although one actress was conspicuously absent from the proceedings: Kelli O'Hara (The King and I) was not nominated for a Drama Desk Award, but will be considered next week in the category of Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical. A perennial nominee (six nods, no wins), many feel she's earned quite a bit of equity as the Susan Lucci of the Tonys. She'll still have to go through Chenoweth, who remains the favorite to win and will be cohosting the Tonys' live broadcast with Alan Cumming.
With a newly minted Drama Desk Award under her belt, Helen Mirren (star of Broadway's The Audience, in which she plays Queen Elizabeth II) is another favorite to win the Tony (in the category of Actress in a Leading Role in a Play). In stark contrast to the adrenaline-charged Miranda, Mirren appeared cool as a cucumber sandwich on a silver tray at Buckingham Palace (perhaps some of that royal stoicism has rubbed off).
"I've never been to the Drama Desk Awards before, but I really enjoyed it. It was the way awards shows should be, which is a little down-home and dirty," Mirren said, noting how the Drama Desks recognize all theater, not just on Broadway. "That's what makes the difference. No one is excluded so you have this unbelievable variety of talent and creativity." While that talented bunch gathered for the after-party at the Marriott Marquis, Mirren opted to celebrate in a distinctly quieter fashion: "Home to bed…that's where my evening's going to be." A queen must observe her beauty sleep, especially with one more long Sunday night to go.