Around The Town

Moments from the 2024 NYDCC and OCC Awards

By: David Sheward

May 28, 2024: Two major theater critics’ groups, the New York Drama Critics Circle and the Outer Critics Circle, handed out their annual awards last week. At both ceremonies, the winners were known in advance, so everyone could relax. The 88th NY Drama Critics Circle Awards ceremony was held at 54 Below on Tues. May 21 with Circle president Adam Feldman of Time Out New York presiding. Jim Walton of the original cast of Merrily We Roll Along presented the special award to Maria Friedman, director of the revival. Walton said he imagined when Stephen Sondheim got to heaven, God said to him, “Steve, I think I know how to fix Merrily.” This is because the show has gone through so many iterations and revivals since its infamous 1981 flop run on Broadway. 

Guy Davis and Hasna Muhammad with their sister Nora Day on the phone accepting the NYDCC award for their father’s play “Purlie Victorious”..

By: David Sheward

May 28, 2024: Two major theater critics’ groups, the New York Drama Critics Circle and the Outer Critics Circle, handed out their annual awards last week. At both ceremonies, the winners were known in advance, so everyone could relax. The 88th NY Drama Critics Circle Awards ceremony was held at 54 Below on Tues. May 21 with Circle president Adam Feldman of Time Out New York presiding. Jim Walton of the original cast of Merrily We Roll Along presented the special award to Maria Friedman, director of the revival. Walton said he imagined when Stephen Sondheim got to heaven, God said to him, “Steve, I think I know how to fix Merrily.” This is because the show has gone through so many iterations and revivals since its infamous 1981 flop run on Broadway. 

Jonathan McCrory, artistic director of the National Black Theater, presented the special award for the Purlie Victorious revival to Guy Davis and Hasna Muhammad, the children of playwright Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee who co-starred with her husband in the original 1961 Broadway production. Guy was carrying his cell phone so that their sister Nora Day could join in on Face Time. 

Hasna related how their dad originally wrote the play in angry reaction to what was happening to black people in the South at the time. Davis and Dee were working on a production of The World of Sholom Alcheim and the actor-playwright was inspired by the humor of the Alcheim stories to use satire and wit to address the injust situation. She also told that their mother was not originally chosen for the role of Lutiebelle since she was primarily a dramatic actress. She had to audition for her husband’s play.

Maryann Plunkett and Jay O. Sanders received a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Playwright Richard Nelson presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to married actors Maryann Plunkett and Jay O. Sanders who appeared in several of Nelson’s Rhinebeck plays. The pianist played them on with “The Lambeth Walk” from Me and My Girl for which Plunkett won the 1987 Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Musical. I later told Plunkett I remembered seeing her in the National Actors Theater 1993 production of Saint Joan and Sanders said that was the first play they did together. Adam Feldman related one of the first shows he had seen in NY was Sunday in the Park with George when Plunkett had taken over Dot from Bernadette Peters.

Special award honoree composer Heather Christian revealed she was working on a musical version of the children’s classic A Wrinkle in Time with playwright Lauren Yee which will premiere at Arena Stage during summer 2025.

Stereophonic playwright David Adjmi, winner of Best Play, admitted he wanted to give up the theater 14 years ago and write for TV, but that he learned to have “an unconditional love for [the] art form.”

David Yazbek, co-composer-lyricist of Best Musical Dead Outlaw with Erik Della Pinna, teased his co-winner book-writer Itamar Moses for dressing slightly more formally than the last time they won (for The Band’s Visit.) “He was wearing cargo shorts and sandals,” Yazbek joked, “he looked like he was right off the kibbutz.” 

“It was 100 degrees outside,” Moses defended himself.

With Kecia Lewis, Outstanding Featured Performer in a B’way Musical for
Hell’s Kitchen at the OCCs. Credit: Barry Gordin

Fortunately, the weather was more temperate when the Outer Critics Circle Awards were handed out on Thurs. May 23 at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts at another fun event produced by OCC board member Lauren Yeager. OCC President David Gordon and OCC Vice-President Richie Ridge introduced presenters Tony Danza, Montego Glover, Steve Guttenberg, Andrea Martin and Susan Kelechi Watson. 

Presenter Steve Guttenberg related a riotous anecdote about auditioning for the film version of The Outsiders. He was seated in between Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise. Swayze asked what role he was going up for. “Ponyboy,” Guttenberg replied with the name of the lead character. Swayze shook his head and said, “Nah, you’re too Jewish.” Cruise agreed, “Yeah, man, too Jewish.” Guttenberg shrugged off their assessment that he was not Midwestern enough to be convincing as an Oklahoma juvenile delinquent. He was called in and within minutes of his reading, the director Francis Ford Coppola said, “No. Too Jewish.”

Thom Sesma, Outstanding Featured Performer in an Off-Broadway Musical for Dead Outlaw, revealed he met his co-winner in the category Judy Kuhn (I Can Get It for You Wholesale) when he was in the last Broadway revival of The King and I to star Yul Brynner and Judy was understudying Tuptim.

Jessica Stone, Outstanding Director of a Musical for Water for Elephants, quoted her husband Christopher Fitzgerald (Waitress, Finian’s Rainbow), who said as they were preparing for the event, “The Outer Critics are probably nicer than your inner critic.”

Winning costume designer Linda Cho (The Great Gatsby) thanked Lauren for getting her two extra tickets for her young sons, but apologized that they didn’t want to come because it was Spring Fling at their school and they would get to goof off all day.

Outstanding composer-lyricist-book-writer Shaina Taub (Suffs) thanked her husband for “listening to every draft of every song in our one-bedroom apartment during the Pandemic.”

Next are the Drama Desks and Theater World Awards (both on June 10), then the Tonys on June 16.