NYDCC Pick “Heroes” and “Loop” as Best of 2019-20
By: David Sheward
April 16, 2020: Heroes of the Fourth Turning and A Strange Loop, two Off-Broadway productions presented by Playwrights Horizons, were voted Best Play and Best Musical respectively by the New York Drama Critic Circle. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the organization of New York-based theater critics met for the first time on the Zoom platform on April 15 and considered productions which opened before March 12, when all Broadway theaters were closed. (Off-Broadway soon followed.) Both Broadway and Off-Broadway shows were considered. Sixteen voting members were present with four absent. The awards will be presented in a virtual ceremony on April 28. Special citations were voted to David Byrne and the Broadway production of American Utopia; Deirdre O’Connell for career excellence including her performance in Dana H.; and the New York theater community for perseverance in the face of loss during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Heroes of the Fourth Turning, written by Will Arbery and directed by Danya Taymor, had its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons on Oct. 7, 2019 and closed on Nov. 17, 2019. The play focuses on a reunion of graduates from a conservative Christian university in Wyoming
A Strange Loop, book, music and lyrics by Michael R. Jackson, directed by Stephen Brackett, had its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons on June 17, 2019 and closed on July 28, 2019. The musical follows a young African-American gay man as he explores his past while working at his day job as an usher at The Lion King and writing an autobiographical musical.
The awards include a cash prize of $2,500 for Best Play, made possible by a grant from the Lucille Lortel Foundation. The awards will be presented during a virtual ceremony on Tuesday, April 28 at 8pm.
The Circle began by casting votes for the best play, foreign or American, of the truncated season. Heroes emerged as the leader with eight votes, followed by The Inheritance with three, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven and Greater Clements with two each, and Linda Vista with one. There were not enough votes for a majority (9 out of 16), so the group moved on to a weighted-ballot round with the critics choosing their top three picks. In this round, Heroes was the clear winner with 30 votes. The Inheritance was second with 16. Greater Clements received 14, Halfway Bitches 13, The Sound Inside and Linda Vista netted seven each, Eureka Day three, Paris and Dana H. two each, and Make Believe and Why? got one a piece.
The Circle then voted not to bestow a Best Foreign Play award and moved on to choosing a Best Musical. A Strange Loop was the clear winner in the first round with 10 out of the 16 critics choosing it. Octet garnered two votes while Soft Power, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, Moulin Rouge and The Secret Life of Bees earned only one vote each.
The New York Drama Critics’ Circle comprises 20 drama critics from daily newspapers, magazines, wire services and websites based in the New York metropolitan area. The New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, which has been awarded every year since 1936 to the best new play of the season (with optional awards for foreign or American plays, musicals and special achievements), is the nation’s second-oldest theater award, after the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Recent Best Play winners include The Ferryman (2019), Mary Jane (2018), Oslo (2017), The Humans (2016) and Between Riverside and Crazy (2015). Recent Best Musical winners include Tootsie (2019), The Band’s Visit (2017), Shuffle Along (2016) and Hamilton (2015). What the Constitution Means to Me was named Best American Play in 2019; Hangmen was named Best Foreign Play in 2018.
Each year the New York Drama Critics’ Circle may also award special citations to individuals, groups and/or productions for outstanding contribution. Recent recipients include playwrights Paula Vogel and Taylor Mac; artistic director Oskar Eustis; actors Lois Smith, Viola Davis and Mark Rylance; directors Ivo van Hove and Mike Nichols; the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene production of Fiddler on the Roof; and the Encores! series at New York City Center.
Adam Feldman, theater critic and editor for Time Out New York, has served as president of the NYDCC since 2005. Joe Dziemianowicz serves as vice president; Zachary Stewart is treasurer.
In addition to Feldman, Dziemianowicz and Stewart, the members of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle are: David Cote, Vinson Cunningham, David Finkle, Jeremy Gerard, Charles Isherwood, Chris Jones, Christopher Kelly, Soraya Nadia McDonald, David Rooney, Frank Scheck, Alexandra Schwartz, Helen Shaw, David Sheward, Marilyn Stasio, Terry Teachout, Elisabeth Vincentelli and Matt Windman. Emeritus members include Melissa Rose Bernardo, Michael Feingold, Robert Feldberg, Elysa Gardner, Brian Scott Lipton, Jesse Oxfeld, Michael Sommers, Steven Suskin, Linda Winer and Richard Zoglin.
For more information on the New York Drama Critics’ Circle, visit www.dramacritics.org.