Post-Tony predictions: Which award winners and nominees will make it to local stages?

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday June 25, 2024
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Nana Mensah, Dominique Thorne and Somi Kakoma in 'Jaja's African Hair Braiding' <br>(photo: Matthew Murphy)
Nana Mensah, Dominique Thorne and Somi Kakoma in 'Jaja's African Hair Braiding'
(photo: Matthew Murphy)

The 77th annual Tony Awards, presented earlier this month in a televised New York ceremony, spread the winnings across a large range of productions: Out of the 20 shows that received nominations, 12 won at least one Tony.

For many Bay Area theatergoers, the biggest question on Broadway's biggest night isn't which shows will win, but which shows will we get to see on national tours or in local productions over the next couple of years?

Below are one critic's assessments of some of this year's winners and nominees; not of their quality, but of the likelihood they'll be headed our way, with chances influenced by their cost of production, breadth of box office appeal, and likely appeal to Bay Area artistic directors.

Jessica Lange, Jim Parsons and Celia Keenan-Bolger in 'Mother Play' (photo: Brooke DiDonato)  

Sure things (Plays)
First out of the gate is "Jaja's African Hair Braiding," which won the Tony for best costume design in a play and was also nominated for best play, best sound design in a play and best scenic design in a play.

The comedy by Jocelyn Bioh is already scheduled to have its West Coast premiere at the Berkeley Rep, from November 8 through December 15 of this year. Bioh's earlier scripts, "School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play" and the musical "Goddess," have also played at the Rep in recent seasons. And her "Nollywood Dreams" received an uproarious production at the San Francisco Playhouse.

Luckily for Bay Area audiences, the "Jaja" that will play at Berkeley is the same production seen on Broadway, so we'll get to experience its winning and nominated design work firsthand.

"Mother Play," another Best Play nominee, went home empty-handed, but its queer content; popular, award-winning playwright Paula Vogel ("How I Learned to Drive," "Indecent," "The Baltimore Waltz"; a small cast of just three, and minimal setting make it a natural for the San Francisco market.

The show, which follows a struggling single mother and her two queer children over the course of four decades, could well find its way to NCTC because of its LGBTQ+ characters, but would be welcome at any local theater. Alas, we'll have to settle for someone in the title role other than Jessica Lange, who made the Broadway production an indelible coup de theatre.

The cast of 'The Outsiders'  

Sure things (Musicals)
One of two musical shoo-ins to play San Francisco is "The Outsiders," which won the Tonys for best new musical and best director of a musical (Dayna Taymor, niece of "Lion King" director Julie Taymor) is a shoo-in for San Francisco. A national tour has already been announced; it'll kick off in Fall 2025 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the gangs 'n' angst teenage drama is set, so expect Ponyboy and company to "Stay Gold" by the Golden Gate in 2026. (The show's mellow, folk-influenced cast album is available now).

"Hell's Kitchen," nominated for best musical and a winner of Tonys for both best actress and supporting actress hasn't yet announced a tour, but it's inevitable given positive critics' reviews, strong box office performance, and already popular songs by Alicia Keys. I'd bet on an Orpheum run in 2026.

And despite not taking home any Tonys, triple nominee "The Notebook" (Best Book of a Musical, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in A Leading Role) is sure to tour, fueled by brand recognition. The Nicholas Sparks book and movie adaptation that preceded this theater iteration are beloved by millions, many of who are old enough to be habitual theatre subscribers.

'Appropriate' (photo: Craig Schwartz)  

Strong odds
Although non-musicals rarely tour, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' "Appropriate," which won the Tony for Best Revival of a Play has a solid shot at getting on the production calendar of one of our regional theaters over the next couple years.

It's a rich, dark comedy full of thorny questions about social justice, white privilege and family dysfunction: All stuff that Bay Area audiences and production companies love. With a cast of eight, it's a rather large production, and demands some fairly elaborate design work, making A.CT. or Berkeley Rep seems like its most likely landing place, although a Shotgun Players production also seems a possibility.

In a similar situation is Best Play winner "Stereophonic" by David Adjmi, a music biz how-the-sausage-is-made drama full of tempestuous rock stars portrayed by actors who play instruments on stage. Its over three hours long, but so was "The Lehmann Trilogy."

The show also took home a Tony for Best Scenic Design, which went to the prolific David Zinn, who designed the sets for last year's A.C.T. production of "The Wizard of Oz."

Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff and Lindsay Mendez in 'Merrily We Roll Along' (photo: Matthew Murphy)  

Risky bets
This year's Best Revival of a Musical Award deservedly went to director Maria Friedman's sparkling resurrection of Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along." But the production's success, both artistically and at the box office, had at least as much to do with its Tony-winning central actors, Jonathan Groff and Daniel Radcliffe, whose huge, open-hearted performances and mutual chemistry felt irreplaceable.

Given mediocre sales for the touring version of the Tony-winning 2022 Broadway revival of Sondheim's "Company" (without its New York stars, Katrina Lenk and Patti Lupone), currently at the Golden Gate Theatre minus its Broadway stars, I wouldn't count on "Merrily" going 'round. And locally, 42nd Street Moon mounted an admirable version of the show just last year.

A dark horse is "Water for Elephants," the circus-themed Best Musical nominee. Its score is not particularly memorable and, though based on a bestselling book and its movie adaptation, H2O for heffalumps just isn't a sticky brand. That said, co-choreographer and circus designer Shana Carroll has deep local ties (She's one of the creative forces behind "Dear San Francisco") and the Bay Area has an outsized affinity for circus arts. But don't keep your fingers crossed.

"Illinoise," the dance musical built around Sufjan Stevens' brilliant 2005 album is, alas, ill-conceived. Likely nominated in part for its novelty (no dialogue, eclectic score and orchestration), the show is catnip for hipsters and audiences already enamored of Stevens' work. But it's not narratively coherent enough to gain traction on a national tour and requires such a high level of dance talent that it would be hard to replicate in a short-run local production.

That said, both the original Stevens recording and the gorgeously sung Broadway cast album are well worth your time.

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