Six Pulitzer-Prize winning plays are nominated for Tony Awards this season
This season, six classic and contemporary Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, including new premieres and revivals, have earned at least one Tony Award nomination.
For the past 105 years, the Pulitzer Prizes have highlighted achievements in the arts, journalism, and literature. Many notable and impactful plays have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, but that’s not the be-all-end-all of their recognition. Six Pulitzer-winning plays, classic and new, went up this Broadway season alone. What’s more, they all earned Tony nominations: Fat Ham, Topdog/Underdog, Between Riverside and Crazy, Cost of Living, The Piano Lesson, and Death of a Salesman.
Whether a recent Pulitzer winner or a Pulitzer winner of decades past, each play explores the truths, struggles, and joys of being human. They examine queerness, race, sexuality, disability, legacy, and other deeply resonant themes. Each performance allowed audiences to see themselves represented, opened their eyes to aspects of the world they may not have considered before, or a little bit of both. New York Theatre Guide spoke with actors, writers, and producers from the six Pulitzer-winning plays up for Tony honors this year.
Throughout the years, many variations of Shakespeare's world-renowned Hamlet have premiered on stage, on screen, and even in books. James Ijames's play Fat Ham, which won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is the most recent Hamlet adaptation to take theatre by storm. In fact, Fat Ham earned an impressive five nominations this award season, including one for Best Play.
The comedic drama is a Black, queer, contemporary retelling of Hamlet, taking place at a modern backyard barbecue. Ijames first read Hamlet in college for a student production and fell in love with the play; he started to work on what would become Fat Ham about eight years ago with the goal of making a variation of Hamlet set in the South.
"There are a lot of queer people that live in the South; there are a lot of people that are surviving. And if I can give them a mirror of what their life is, that means a lot to me because I didn't have any mirrors," Ijames said.
Over the pandemic, producer Mandy Hackett read the play and immediately knew it was something special. "I can remember exactly where I was, and when I read it for the first time, and still right now, I can just picture myself holding that script in my hands, and it was like James's words were just popping off the page to me," Hackett said.
The cookout is going on at the American Airlines Theatre through June 25.
Get Fat Ham tickets now.
Between Riverside and Crazy
Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Between Riverside and Crazy debuted off Broadway in 2014, and it won the Pulitzer the following year. In 2022, the show’s Broadway debut earned two Tony nominations: one for Best Play and one for Stephen McKinley Henderson for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play.
McKinley Henderson was in a hotel room in Toronto when he found out he was nominated for his role as gruff patriarch Walter “Pops” Washington. “Sitting alone just makes you think of all the people who believed in you for so long,” he said.
One of those people is Guirgis, Henderson’s longtime friend who wrote Riverside’s leading role specifically for him. The drama tells the story of how Pops, a retired New York City policeman, battles to keep his rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive, where he lives with his son and has unofficially taken in other down-and-outs that come to represent home as much as the apartment does. The play explores family and relationship dynamics, race, addiction, and more.
This play is personal for Guirgis, and his choice to make the apartment its own character was reflective of his experiences. “When I was growing up, my parents didn't have a lot of money,” he said. “When my father died, I had, like, $2,500 in the bank, but he had that apartment. And it meant the world."
In 2002, the dark comedy Topdog/Underdog debuted on Broadway to rave reviews, and playwright Suzan-Lori Parks won the drama Pulitzer for the play that same year. Parks wrote the play in 1999 and said of the writing process, "It was as if someone was pouring silver liquid down the back of my head. I've never had that experience in writing before; it just flowed through me."
The show, which closed in January, is set in a rundown room at a boarding house and tells the story of two brothers, comically and infamously named Lincoln and Booth, and their struggle to make enough money to survive.
After 20 years, the show's highly anticipated return to Broadway was a hit once more. It has been nominated for three Tony awards for Best Revival of a Play and both actors in the production, onstage brothers Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Corey Hawkins, were nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play.
Parks explained that the audience was incredibly receptive to the play, saying, "When we embrace those two men in their broken, troubled, loving, striving state, we embrace that part of ourselves that is the same. People get it now in a way that they wanted to get it, maybe, 20 years ago."
The Piano Lesson
Playwright August Wilson had a storied career writing numerous heart-touching and award-winning plays, and his work continues to make an impact. Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, which initially premiered in 1987 and won the 1990 Pulitzer, came back to Broadway in the fall and was nominated for Best Play Revival.
“We're very lucky that August Wilson's words are timeless, very lucky The Piano Lesson is this type of show that really speaks to a brand-new audience of people,” producer Brian Moreland said.
The Piano Lesson is set in 1936 Pittsburgh, focusing on the Charles family as they decide what to do with their family heirloom piano, which has carvings from an enslaved ancestor. The show takes place in the home of elder Uncle Doaker Charles, the unofficial family historian played by Samuel L. Jackson, who received a Tony nomination for the role.
Moreland explained two main reasons for reviving this show on Broadway, and the two are married — literally. One was getting to work with director LaTanya Richardson Jackson, and the other was Samuel L. Jackson. “This character of Doaker Charles is the heartbeat of the play, and it's such a quiet, graceful, layered performance,” Moreland said.
Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman is a timeless classic tragedy by Arthur Miller, which first debuted on Broadway in 1949 and received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year. Broadway revivals took the stage in 1975, 1984, 1999, 2012, and 2022. Each revival has received award nominations and wins, and this revival is no different. Its two Tony Award nominations are Best Lighting and Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Play by Wendell Pierce.
“I was having feelings of considering whether my best days were behind me as an artist and questioning myself,” Pierce admitted. “Then I was presented this opportunity to play Willy Loman, which is one of the great challenges in the American canon of the theatre, and I leaped at the opportunity.”
The play, set in 1949 in the Loman home in Brooklyn, New York, looks back on failed salesman Willy Loman’s life through a montage of dreams, memories, and arguments on the cusp of his death. The play explores the idea of the American dream of success — also Loman’s dream — and how that differed so strongly from how his life turned out. Pierce, who previously played Willy in London, became the first Black man to play him on Broadway.
“I knew that I had a unique experience to connect with the play as an African American," Pierce said. “Who better to depict and explore how the American dream can be denied and turned into the American nightmare?”
Cost of Living
The 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Cost of Living, had its Broadway debut in the fall of 2022 after its Lucille Lortel Award-winning Off-Broadway run at New York City Center in 2017. The Broadway performance, with the original director and two original cast members, was also a hit. Cost of Living has been nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Play and Best Direction for Jo Bonney. Three actors, including original cast member Katy Sullivan, were nominated for their roles.
Martyna Majok’s one-act drama examines two relationships, one between a graduate student with cerebral palsy, John, and his caregiver, Jess. The other relationship is between Ani, who became a quadriplegic following an accident, and her ex-husband, Eddie. This show explores the overlap between caregiving and being cared for and the intersections of oppression due to financial status, gender, and race.
Something of utmost importance to Majok is having disabled characters played by disabled actors. Sullivan, a quadriplegic, is nominated for her role as Ani. “My hope is, by the love that this piece is getting, it will hopefully make other producers and decision-makers understand the impact that authentic casting can make,” said Sullivan.
"I hope that this means that there's going to be more disabled playwrights and disabled actors on Broadway,” Majok added. “These shows belong on Broadway. These stories, these performances belong on Broadway.”
In-article photo credits: Fat Ham, Between Riverside and Crazy, Topdog/Underdog, The Piano Lesson, Death of a Salesman, and Cost of Living. (Photos by Joan Marcus, Joan Marcus, Marc J. Franklin, Julieta Cervantes,Joan Marcus, and Jeremy Daniel.)
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