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Brits lead the way on (and off) Broadway

 Tuesday, 15th May, 2018

Theatre critic and member, Mark Shenton

Broadway is in the midst of its annual "awards season" - the time of year when all of the new shows for 2017-18 have already opened and now await official anointing by the Tony Awards; the most prestigious of the award ceremonies that takes place this year on June 10th at Radio City Music Hall. In the run-up to the Awards, a number of smaller ceremonies - including the Drama Desk Awards, the Outer Critics' Circle Awards and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards are all taking place. Those are a lot more inclusive than the Tony Awards, allowing Off-Broadway shows for consideration. 

Thus it is that Martin McDonagh's Hangman, seen at off-Broadway's Atlantic Theatre, was recently named Best Foreign Play by the New York Drama Critics' Circle, for a production first seen at the Royal Court before transferring to Wyndham's Theatre. 

It is also striking once again, that British plays and players, not to mention directors and designers are represented across those nominated for Tony's. 

Look, for instance, at the nominees for best actor in a play: four of the five nominees are British (or at least part-British). Andrew Garfield was born in California but raised in Britain and has dual citizenship. He is joined by Tom Hollander, Jamie Parker and Mark Rylance - all of them, including Garfield, reprising performances they originally gave in London in Angels in America, Travesties, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Farinelli and the King respectively; the sole Broadway originated performance by an American is Denzel Washington in The Iceman Cometh.  

Four of the five nominees for featured actress in a play, were also reprising performances first given in London: Susan Brown and the Irish-born Denise Gough in Angels in America, Noma Dumezweni in Harry Potter and Deborah Findlay in The Children, with only Laurie Metcalfe in Three Tall Women originating on Broadway. 

The showcase of British acting also continued into other categories with Glenda Jackson nominated for leading actress in Three Tall Women, Harry Hadden-Paton for leading actor in a musical for My Fair Lady, and Anthony Boyle for featured actor in a play for Harry Potter (the total tally of British and Irish actors nominated was 13, out of 39 performer nominations: a full third of the total). 

British creatives fared even better with 18 nominations for directors, writers and designers, including four of the five nominees for best sound design (Adam Cork, Ian Dickinson, Gareth Fry and Tom Gibbons), and three of the five nominees for Best Lighting designer (Neil Austin, Paule Constable and Paul Russell). 

Broadway is heavily reliant on British imports, especially of plays, as we are, of course, heavily reliant on Broadway imports to the West End for musicals (and duly saw Hamilton recently take home seven Olivier Awards, including Best Musical, for its West End transfer to the Victoria Palace). Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, imported from London to Broadway, is the blockbuster to beat this year which earned a total of ten Tony nominations, whilst another British export of an American contemporary classic Angels in America is now the most nominated play not just of this season but of any previous season, with a record-breaking 11 nominations. 

Two home-grown American musicals, though, did even better, proving that the musical remains king on Broadway, with a dozen nominations apiece for Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants. The one to beat, though, will be another, much more low-key musical The Band's Visit - as New York Times joint chief critic Jesse Green recently remarked, it's "a totally non-commercial musical that is making a go of it on Broadway despite being excellent in every way."