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‘The Inheritance,’ ‘Strange Loop,’ ‘Moulin Rouge’ Among Drama Desk Award Winners

A Strange Loop review
Joan Marcus

Though the lights of New York’s theater community have been dimmed since March 12th due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this year’s telecast of the 65th Drama Desk Awards, which celebrates the best of Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off Broadway, proved that the show must go on – albeit virtually. For the first time in the history of the awards, the ceremony was held remotely. Hosted by Frank DiLella, the pre-recorded awards show aired June 13 during a special presentation of NY1’s “On Stage” and was livestreamed on NY1.com and DramaDeskAwards.com.  As a result of the truncated theater season, only shows that opened prior to the shutdown were eligible.

Set to air on May 31, the awards were rescheduled amidst the Black Lives Matters protests taking place in New York and around the world. DiLella, who filmed his segments in front of the shuttered Town Hall Theater in New York, where the ceremony originally was to be held, explained the decision behind the postponement. “The Drama Desk organization and NY1 chose to delay airing the original broadcast to allow viewers to engage with these events and hear the voices connected to them, which have spurred crucial conversations on race,” DiLella said. “While those conversations continue, tonight we take a moment to celebrate the outstanding work of a diverse group of nominees, who through their contributions to this memorable season, often grappled with big questions and expanded our consciousness on meaningful issues.”

The evening’s biggest prizes went to “A Strange Loop” and “The Inheritance”, which won “Outstanding Musical” and “Outstanding Play” respectively. The semi-autobiographical musical “A Strange Loop” was inspired by writer and lyricist Michael R. Jackson’s experiences as a young, black, queer artist struggling to make it in the theater world. “Being nominated for a Drama Desk Award for “A Strange Loop” means getting to celebrate a show that I put so much hard work and love into, with collaborators who I love and to get to celebrate other practitioners of a form that I love more than anything else,” said Jackson in a pre-recorded acceptance speech.

“The Inheritance” explores 21st century gay culture and legacy of the AIDS epidemic. Playwright Matthew Lopez said, “The best part about putting “The Inheritance” together was sharing it with audiences. I have never had a play of mine received as warmly and lovingly as “The Inheritance” has. The audiences really took the play and the characters to their hearts and in doing so, they became part of the storytelling process themselves.”

Lopez continued, ‘It was a very short season this year but it was a vibrant season. And for “The Inheritance” to be recognized among all the plays that have opened this season is very humbling and very gratifying.”

“Little Shop of Horrors” received the award for “Outstanding Revival of a Musical” while “A Soldier’s Play” earned a nod for “Outstanding Revival of a Play”. “Moulin Rouge!” won a total of five awards in the categories of choreography, scenic design, costume design, lighting design and sound design. Larry Owens(“A Strange Loop”), Adrienne Warren(“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical”), Paul Hilton(“The Inheritance”) and Louis Smith(“The Inheritance”) took home the top honors for their performances.

Speaking on behalf of the Drama Desk, an organization comprised of theater journalists, critics, editors and publishers, board member Jose Solis noted, “This year’s Drama Desk Awards are certainly marked by what is a very difficult time for our drama community. There is also reason for optimism and hope. This year’s slate of nominees for instance is the most diverse lineup in Drama Desk history. That is absolutely worth celebrating.”

The 65th Drama Desk Awards introduced its first lifetime achievement award, named in honor of legendary Broadway producer Hal Prince, who passed away in 2019. Prince, who won 21 Tony Awards over the span of his career, posthumously became the inaugural recipient of the Harold Prince Award for Outstanding Contributions to Theater. “He is a giant in our industry,” said theater director and choreographer Susan Stroman while presenting the award.  “His shows were groundbreaking and really changed the course of theater history. But I would like to think that Hal’s legacy was his contribution to young artists. Hal would encourage young artists to see their value. The number of artists he inspired with his generosity of spirit was endless.”

A slew of past Drama Desk winners and nominees were virtually on-hand to present the awards, including James Corden, Kristin Chenoweth, Tituss Burgess, Audra MacDonald, Alan CummingBeanie Feldstein, Santino Fontana, Patti Lupone, Renée Elise GoldsberryJesse Tyler Ferguson, Ali Stroker, Jane Krakowski, Audra McDonald, Cynthia Nixon, Ashley Park and Andrew Rannells. The presenters pre-recorded their segments from their homes, sometimes with handwritten, improvised envelopes for the winners.

Corden concluded the evening by addressing viewers from his home set of “The Late Late Show.” “It’s so lovely to see everybody,” Corden said. “Echoing the thoughts of so many people tonight, I long for the day that we are all together under one roof, celebrating the work that everyone has done.”

Here is a complete list of nominees and winners for the 65th annual Drama Desk Awards.

Outstanding Play
Cambodian Rock Band, by Lauren Yee, Signature Theatre
Greater Clements, by Samuel D. Hunter, Lincoln Center Theater
Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven, by Stephen Adly Guirgis, Atlantic Theater Company/LAByrinth Theater Company
Heroes of the Fourth Turning, by Will Arbery, Playwrights Horizons
The Inheritance, by Matthew Lopez (Winner)

Outstanding Musical
Octet, Signature Theatre
The Secret Life of Bees, Atlantic Theater Company
Soft Power, The Public Theater
A Strange Loop, Playwrights Horizons/Page 73 Productions (Winner)

Outstanding Revival of a Play
Fefu and Her Friends, Theatre for a New Audience
for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, The Public Theater
Mac Beth, Red Bull Theater/Hunter Theater Project
Much Ado About Nothing, The Public Theater<
A Soldier’s Play, Roundabout Theatre Company (Winner)

Outstanding Revival of a Musical
Little Shop of Horrors (Winner)
The Unsinkable Molly Brown
West Side Story

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Charles Busch, The Confession of Lily Dare
Edmund Donovan, Greater Clements (Winner)
Raúl Esparza, Seared
Francis Jue, Cambodian Rock Band
Triney Sandoval, 72 Miles to Go…
Kyle Soller, The Inheritance

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Rose Byrne, Medea
Liza Colón-Zayas, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven (Winner)
Emily Davis, Is This A Room
April Matthis, Toni Stone
Ruth Negga, Hamlet

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
David Aron Damane, The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Chris Dwan, Enter Laughing
Joshua Henry, The Wrong Man
Francis Jue, Soft Power
Larry Owens, A Strange Loop (Winner)

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Tammy Blanchard, Little Shop of Horrors
Beth Malone, The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Saycon Sengbloh, The Secret Life of Bees
Elizabeth Stanley, Jagged Little Pill
Adrienne Warren, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical (Winner)

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Victor Almanzar, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven
Esteban Andres Cruz, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven
David Alan Grier, A Soldier’s Play
Paul Hilton, The Inheritance (Winner)
Chris Perfetti, Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Patrice Johnson Chevannes, runboyrun & In Old Age
Kristina Poe, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven
Belange Rodríguez, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Elizabeth Rodriguez, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven
Lois Smith, The Inheritance (Winner)

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
George Abud, Emojiland
Christian Borle, Little Shop of Horrors (Winner)
Jay Armstrong Johnson, Scotland, PA
Conrad Ricamora, Soft Power
Ryan Vasquez, The Wrong Man

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Yesenia Ayala, West Side Story
Paula Leggett Chase, The Unsinkable Molly Brown
LaChanze, The Secret Life of Bees
Alyse Alan Louis, Soft Power
Lauren Patten, Jagged Little Pill (Winner)

Outstanding Director of a Play
Jessica Blank, Coal Country
Stephen Daldry, The Inheritance (Winner)
John Ortiz, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven
Tina Satter, Is This A Room<
Erica Schmidt, Mac Beth

Outstanding Director of a Musical
Stephen Brackett, A Strange Loop (Winner)
Thomas Kail, The Wrong Man
Kathleen Marshall, The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Leigh Silverman, Soft Power
Annie Tippe, Octet

Outstanding Choreography
Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, West Side Story
Keone Madrid and Mari Madrid, Beyond Babel
Kathleen Marshall, The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Sonya Tayeh, Moulin Rouge! (Winner)
Travis Wall, The Wrong Man

Outstanding Music 
Ross Golan, The Wrong Man
Michael R. Jackson, A Strange Loop
Dave Malloy, Octet (Winner)
Joshua Rosenblum, Einstein’s Dreams
Duncan Sheik, The Secret Life of Bees
Jeanine Tesori, Soft Power

Outstanding Book of a Musical
David Henry Hwang, Soft Power
Michael R. Jackson, A Strange Loop (Winner)
Dave Malloy, Octet
Lynn Nottage, The Secret Life of Bees
Mark Saltzman, Romeo & Bernadette
Dick Scanlan, The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Outstanding Lyrics 
Susan Birkenhead, The Secret Life of Bees
Adam Gwon, Scotland, PA
Michael R. Jackson, A Strange Loop (Winner)
Joanne Sydney Lessner and Joshua Rosenblum, Einstein’s Dreams
Dave Malloy, Octet
Mark Saltzman, Romeo & Bernadette

Outstanding Orchestrations
Tom Kitt, Jagged Little Pill (Winner)
Alex Lacamoire, The Wrong Man
Or Matias and Dave Malloy, Octet
Danny Troob, John Clancy, and Larry Hochman, Soft Power
Jonathan Tunick, West Side Story

Outstanding Music in a Play
Steve Earle, Coal Country
Frightened Rabbit, Square Go
Jim Harbourne, Feral
Martha Redbone, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (Winner)
Adam Seidel, Jane Bruce, and Daniel Ocanto, Original Sound

Outstanding Scenic Design for a Play
Catherine Cornell, Mac Beth
Clint Ramos, Grand Horizons (Winner)
Adam Rigg, Fefu and Her Friends
Paul Steinberg, Judgment Day
B.T. Whitehill, The Confession of Lily Dare

Outstanding Scenic Design for a Musical
Julian Crouch, Little Shop of Horrors
Anna Louizos, Scotland, PA
Derek McLane, Moulin Rouge! (Winner)
Clint Ramos, Soft Power
Amy Rubin and Brittany Vasta, Octet

Outstanding Costume Design for a Play
Asa Benally, Blues for an Alabama Sky
Montana Levi Blanco, Fefu and Her Friends
Toni-Leslie James, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Antony McDonald, Judgment Day
Rachel Townsend and Jessica Jahn, The Confession of Lily Dare (Winner)
Kaye Voyce, Coriolanus

Outstanding Costume Design for a Musical
Vanessa Leuck, Emojiland
Jeff Mahshie, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Mark Thompson, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
Anita Yavich, Soft Power
Catherine Zuber, Moulin Rouge! (Winner)

Outstanding Lighting Design for a Play
Isabella Byrd, Heroes of the Fourth Turning
Oona Curley, Dr. Ride’s American Beach House
Heather Gilbert, The Sound Inside (Winner)
Mimi Jordan Sherin, Judgment Daylight
Yi Zhao, Greater Clements

Outstanding Lighting Design for a Musical
Betsy Adams, The Wrong Man
Jane Cox, The Secret Life of Bees
Herrick Goldman, Einstein’s Dreams
Bruno Poet, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
Justin Townsend, Moulin Rouge! (Winner)

Outstanding Projection Design
David Bengali, Einstein’s Dreams
Julia Frey, Medea
Luke Halls, West Side Story (Winner)
Lisa Renkel and POSSIBLE, Emojiland
Hannah Wasileski, Fires in the Mirror

Outstanding Sound Design for a Play
Paul Arditti and Christopher Reid, The Inheritance (Winner)
Justin Ellington, Heroes of the Fourth Turning
Mikhail Fiksel, Dana H.
Palmer Hefferan, Fefu and Her Friends
Lee Kinney and Sanae Yamada, Is This A Room

Outstanding Sound Design for a Musical
Tom Gibbons, West Side Story
Kai Harada, Soft Power
Peter Hylenski, Moulin Rouge! (Winner)
Hidenori Nakajo, Octet
Nevin Steinberg, The Wrong Man

Outstanding Wig and Hair Design<
Campbell Young Associates, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical (Winner)
Cookie Jordan, Fefu and Her Friends
Nikiya Mathis, STEW
Tom Watson, The Great Society
Bobbie Zlotnik, Emojiland

Outstanding Solo Performance
David Cale, We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time
Kate del Castillo, the way she spoke
Laura Linney, My Name is Lucy Barton (Winner)
Jacqueline Novak, Get on Your Knees
Deirdre O’Connell, Dana H.

Unique Theatrical Experience
Beyond Babel, Hideaway Circus
Feral, Tortoise in a Nutshell/Cumbernauld Theatre/59E59
Is This A Room, Vineyard Theatre (Winner)
Midsummer: A Banquet, Food of Love Productions/Third Rail Projects

Outstanding Fight Choreography
Vicki Manderson, Square Go
Thomas Schall, A Soldier’s Play (Winner)
UnkleDave’s Fight House, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven

Outstanding Adaptation
A Christmas Carol, by Jack Thorne (Winner)
Judgment Day, by Christopher Shinn
Mojada, by Luis Alfaro
Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow, by Halley Feiffer

Outstanding Puppet Design
Raphael Mishler, Tumacho (Winner)
Rockefeller Productions, Paddington Gets in a Jam
Amanda Villalobos, Is This A Room