Though not without its share of big names, loyal fans and pop-culture buzz, theater may not be the most accessible form of entertainment. Despite this, it remains wholeheartedly worthwhile. Keeping up with each year’s most influential shows — even from a distance — garners deserved appreciation for the artists keeping the art form alive and encourages audiences to attend local productions should a familiar title come to town.
Here are the winners from the 2022 Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Musical, Best Revival of a Play and Best Revival of a Musical, as well as what these shows are all about and why they’re worth your time.
Best Play: “The Lehman Trilogy” (5 wins, 8 nominations)
If the name “Lehman” sounds familiar, one might have an inkling of the dramatic rise and fall illustrated in this year’s winner for best play. Inspired by the lives of three immigrant brothers, the founding of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and the company’s bankruptcy 158 years later during the financial crisis of 2008, “The Lehman Trilogy” opened at Nederlander Theatre in Oct. 2021 and closed Jan. 2022.
The play was written by Italian novelist and playwright Stefano Massini shortly after the company’s collapse. Originally five hours long, the Tony-winning version is playwright Ben Power’s three-hour English adaptation.
“The Lehman Trilogy” is a story of threes: three brothers; actors; hours; acts. Intriguingly, however, the play has more than three characters. Actors Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Adrian Lester play the Lehman brothers as well as their sons, grandsons and other minor characters. Without distinctive costume or visual changes to support this suspension of disbelief, the play relies on a smart script, sharp acting, clever set design and an ability to entice audiences to use their imaginations to complete the story — all of which have proven vehemently successful.
Best Musical: “A Strange Loop” (2 wins, 11 nominations)
Protagonist Usher, a Black, queer writer, is writing a musical about a Black, queer writer writing a musical about a Black, queer writer — truly “A Strange Loop.” As Usher explains, a strange loop is a cognitive science term about how one’s ability to conceive of themselves as “I” is an illusion, but the fact that one can recognize the illusion proves that it exists. Aptly named in more than one way, this year’s winner for best musical explores the uncertainty of identity, the intersection of Blackness, queerness and other key facets of human existence.
With book, music and lyrics by Black, queer playwright Michael R. Jackson, “A Strange Loop” also won the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical and boasted the greatest number of nominations of any show in 2022.
As with its content, “A Strange Loop” ambitiously experiments with form. The trailblazing musical that audiences watch on stage is the same musical that Usher is writing on stage. The cast consists of seven performers: Jaquel Spivey as Usher and six members of the chorus who appear as Usher’s “Thoughts.” The Thoughts represent minor characters in Usher’s musical and visual his internal commentary.
An unapologetic musical, “A Strange Loop” defies and redefines expectations with its creative storytelling.
Best Revival of a Play: “Take Me Out” (2 wins, 4 nominations)
“Take Me Out” maintains its win streak. Having claimed the Tony Award for Best Play when it premiered on Broadway in 2003, the 2022 revival just brought home the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. The revival opened in April 2022 at Hayes Theater and closed two months later, one night before the Tony Awards.
The play follows the fictional mixed-race baseball player Darren Lemming (Jesse Williams), star of the Empires. Written by playwright Richard Greenberg, “Take Me Out” explores what can happen when a Major League Baseball player publicly comes out as gay during their career.
Though the play was originally written to reflect issues of sexuality, race and masculinity in the late 1990s to early 2000s, the revival of “Take Me Out” proves that many of the play’s sentiments are still relevant and just as powerful today.
Best Revival of a Musical: “Company” (5 wins, 9 nominations)
The 2022 Broadway revival of “Company” opened at Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Dec. 9, 2021, about two weeks after the death of its legendary composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim. This is the third Broadway revival of “Company” since its original Broadway debut in 1970, and a significant change has been introduced to the famed musical: a gender swap.
Historically, the lead character of “Company” has been a 35-year-old man named Bobby. In the latest revival, Bobby is now a woman named Bobbie and played by Tony winner Katrina Lenk — an idea conceived by director Marianne Elliott that was given approval from Sondheim himself.
A contemporary reimagination of a classic musical, the innovative 2021 revival of “Company” shows theater’s remarkable ability to adapt to the times and adopt changing perspectives. Its win for best revival could set the stage for similar adaptations yet to come.