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Howard Sherman’s US theatre round-up: May 1

While the Tony Awards grab the major headlines, there are a range of other theatrical awards that are given out in the run up to Broadway’s big evening on June: the Drama Desk Awards [1], the Lucille Lortel Awards [2], the Drama League Awards [3] and the Outer Critics Circle Awards [4]. Unlike the Tonys, some of these prizes recognise work both on and Off-Broadway. Because work can move from Off-Broadway one year to Broadway the next, this makes them imperfect weathervanes for what might happen at the Tonys. They also have their own rules and voters, which may or may not overlap with the Tony constituency.

This year, it’s worth noting that one Tony nominee for best play, Hand to God, was eligible last year for three of these awards, resulting in its absence from contention in them now, while this year all four of these awards’ nominations include the buzzed about musical Hamilton, which will undoubtedly figure in the 2016 Tonys a year from now. Among the multi-represented new play nominees on these lists are The Audience, Between Riverside and Crazy, City of Conversation, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, My Manana Comes, The Nether, and Wolf Hall. The repeatedly cited musicals include An American in Paris, The Fortress of Solitude, Hamilton, It Shoulda Been You, Pretty Filthy, Something Rotten! and The Visit.

Additional theatre awards yet to come, which do not announce nominees in advance, but instead only announce those they choose to recognise, include the Village Voice’s Obie Awards, to be presented this year in partnership with the American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tonys, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Awards. That’s a lot of parties and prizes in the coming weeks.

Phylicia Rashad directs Immediate Family at Mark Taper Forum

The Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles is billing its production of Paul Oakley Stovall’s Immediate Family as “Modern Family meets Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” though the play inverts the film’s premise by making it an African-American family that’s welcoming a white Swedish suitor into their home. The play is directed, as it was in its Chicago premiere, by Phylicia Rashad, the iconic mom of television’s The Cosby Show in the 1980s, who knows a thing or two about family dynamics from that long-running hit series. And while its simply a coincidence, it’s worth noting that another Cosby Show alumnus, Rashad’s TV son Malcolm-Jamal Warner, was on stage last year in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, taking on the Sidney Poitier role. Immediate Family plays through June 7.

Katori Hall’s Blood Quilt opens at Arena Stage

I rarely break a news item over two columns, but the prolific Katori Hall’s current schedule merited a two-part treatment. Her frequent flier miles must be piling up. After last week’s debut of Pussy Valley in Minnesota, this week Hall’s newest work, Blood Quilt, premieres at Washington DC’s Arena Stage. The play is the story of four sisters brought together by their mother’s death to create a family quilt in her honour, a task made more difficult when their mother’s will is revealed. It’s worth noting that in addition to Pussy Valley and Blood Quilt, Hall’s Our Lady of Kibeho only premiered in the fall at New York’s Signature Theatre. Kamilah Forbes, associate director of Holler If You Hear Me, Stick Fly and The Mountaintop on Broadway, stages Hall’s play, which runs through 7 June.

Lemon Andersen’s Toast plays at New York’s Public Theatre

Commissioned by New York’s Public Theatre and first seen in its Under the Radar Festival, spoken word artist Lemon Andersen’s Toast now steps up to a Public Lab production. The story of inmates during the Attica prison riots in 1971, the show boasts an impressive cast including Keith David, Hill Harper and John Earl Jelks. Public Lab productions are noteworthy for offering top notch productions at unbeatable prices – tickets are only $20 and I’ve seen some truly memorable work in this series. Elise Thoron, who previously directed Andersen’s County of Kings, stages the play, which opens officially on May 5 following two weeks of previews, but closes just days later on May 10.

Sheila Callaghan’s Elevada premieres at Yale Rep

Billed as “a romantic comedy about the fear of being alone”, Sheila Callaghan’s Elevada at New Haven’s Yale Repertory Theatre promises to be something more than a standard dating play, due to the presence in the cast of not only four actors, but five dancers as well. In addition to director Jackson Gay, the creative team for this world premiere, a commission by Yale Rep, boasts two choreographers, Kyle Abraham and Kevin Williamson, assuring a fluid and poetic take on the subject. The show opened on April 30 and runs through May 16.

The Fantasticks are staying put

Six weeks ago I reported on the impending closure of The Fantasticks after a nine-year run, but it turns out the closing notice was premature. After the word went out about the show’s status, two anonymous fans of the show stepped up and donated enough money to keep it running for the foreseeable future. This is certainly, to garble the show’s most famous song, a time to remember, as the show heads into the tourist-heavy summer months when its fortunes are usually at their strongest.

Second Stage completes purchase of the Helen Hayes Theatre

First announced in 2008 and then seemingly at risk just weeks ago, Second Stage Theatre has now successfully completed its purchase of Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre, at a price of nearly $25 million. This makes Second Stage the fourth not-for-profit company with a Broadway home, joining Roundabout Theatre (which has three houses), Lincoln Centre Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club. Second Stage has extensive interior renovations planned, designed by noted architect and scenic designer David Rockwell, and the company expects to begin producing in its new home for the 2016/17 Broadway season.

Matilda reveals new ad campaign

Several of Broadway’s more established hits have revealed new ad campaigns in recent weeks, specifically Kinky Boots and Matilda. It’s not uncommon for shows to refresh their image as new shows arrive and grab audience attention, especially during awards season when only the newest works are being celebrated. But what’s particularly notable about the retooled looks for Kinky Boots and Matilda is what they don’t show about the shows – any footage of the productions at all. Kinky Boots has its cast mixing and mingling in a celebratory mode, dressed in a mix of show costumes and coordinated party attire against a white background, while Matilda foregoes any visual representation of the show at all. Both campaigns feature songs from the score set against the new visuals. It’s an intriguing tactic, to be sure. One has to wonder what Miss Trunchbull thinks of it all.