The 2023 WhatsOnStage Awards Showcase Broadway's Past and Future
The best new play in London is coming to Broadway. That would be Suzie Miller's Prima Facie, which is set to begin preview performances at the John Golden Theatre on April 11, and which has just been declared the Best New Play at the 23rd Annual WhatsOnStage Awards, which took place last night at the Prince of Wales Theatre.
That's significant because the WhatsOnStage Awards are entirely nominated and selected by members of the public. Loath as I am to admit it as a critic, that's the approval that really matters (or should really matter) to producers. It's simply not worth the incredible investment in time and money to put up a show if no one wants to see it. That's true about for-profit and subsidized theaters alike.
"Thank you to everyone who voted, and everyone who bought tickets," said the show's star, Jodie Comer, herself a newly minted WhatsOnStage Award winner for Best Performer in a Play. Prima Facie has strong word of mouth, and that is now further boosted by these awards. Without ever setting foot on a Broadway stage, Comer now seems like a strong contender for a Tony this June.
Daniel Fish's Tony-winning revival of Oklahoma!, which played on Broadway from 2019 to 2020, won two WhatsOnStage Awards, for Joshua Thorson's video design and in the Best Musical Revival category. "Our country and your country have a lot in common," said the American producer Eva Price as she accepted the award. She wasn't just referring to our taste in theater, but the common interest is clear.
But success (or lack thereof) on Broadway doesn't necessarily correlate to success on the West End. The biggest theatrical comeback story in recent years is undoubtedly that of the Frank Wildhorn, Don Black, and Ivan Menchell musical Bonnie & Clyde, which played a pitiful 36 performances on Broadway (excluding previews) in 2011 and received zero Tony Awards. Twelve years later, the musical is living its best life in London, about reopen at the Garrick Theatre following a successful run last year at the Arts Theatre. The cast and crew will be able to celebrate their first performance on March 4 with a brand-new WhatsOnStage Award for Best Musical. Now that enough time has passed and a cult following has developed, is it time for Bonnie & Clyde to return to the scene of the crime?
The WhatsOnStage Awards are a good indicator of shows that have a potential to run elsewhere. & Juliet and Six, both WhatsOnStage Award winners, now do a brisk business on Broadway, outpacing many native-born musicals. If their example is any indication, New York audiences should keep their eyes peeled for My Neighbor Totoro, the stage adaptation of Hayao Miyazaki's 1988 animated film, which won five awards last night, more than any other production. We might also look out for the revival of Mike Bartlett's Cock directed by Marianne Elliott, which won the Best Play Revival category. Elliot is a heavy hitter in London who also has three Tony Awards for directing. Any project with her name attached is worthy of attention.
One of the things I love about the WhatOnStage Awards is the way they take notice of long-running productions, which I really wish New York's awards and theater journalists would do more of, considering how many thousands of tickets are bought and sold to these shows every year. It's absolutely essential in a town like London, where productions that long ago ended their New York runs (Les Misérables, Frozen, Jersey Boys) are alive and well.
Lucie Jones, the current Elphaba in Wicked, won the award for Best Takeover Performance, beating out contenders in Hamilton, Heathers, and Matilda — all of which have been playing for years. She seemed so overwhelmed by this culmination of an 11-year quest for the role that she forgot to thank anyone, and later directed the crowd at the Prince of Wales Theatre to her Instagram page for a complete list.
Six won the award for Best West End Show, as it did last year, and (sort of) in 2020, and as I suspect it will continue to do for as long as it takes to erase the stain of its defeat to Heathers in the Best New Musical category in 2019. When it comes to winning an award like this, never underestimate a rabid online fanbase.
But one suspects that tween girls on TikTok had little to do with the victory of Stephen Sondheim's Old Friends in the Best Concert Event category. The death of the greatest theatrical composer of his generation still feels fresh, and star-studded revivals of Assassins, Company, and Sweeney Todd prove that there's no shortage of top talent ready and willing to drop everything to perform the work of the great master onstage. Producer Cameron Mackintosh, who owns the Prince of Wales Theatre, took the opportunity of accepting the award to break a little news: Old Friends is coming back with American stars Lea Salonga and Bernadette Peters, who will be making her West End debut at the age of 75. It's hard to believe it has taken that long, but we're sure that London audiences will enjoy this latest shipment in a transatlantic theatrical trade that continues to flourish.
Click here for a complete list of winners of the 2023 WhatsOnStage Awards.