Olivier Winners That Transferred to Broadway

By Jordan Levinson

Every year, the Laurence Olivier Awards are presented to honor excellence in professional London theatre. Given to shows and individuals on the West End, the Oliviers are considered the British equivalent of the Tony Awards. This year’s ceremony is set to take place on April 2 from Royal Albert Hall. Through the years, there have been several Olivier-winning musicals and plays that have transferred to Broadway.

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Back to the Future

The reigning Olivier winner for best new musical is Back to the Future, which brings the beloved 1985 film of the same name to stunning new life onstage. Amid a successful London run thus far at the Adelphi Theatre, the show will begin Broadway previews on June 30 and officially open August 3 at the Winter Garden Theatre. Original West End cast members Roger Bart and Hugh Coles will reprise their roles as Doc Brown and George McFly, and Casey Likes (Almost Famous) joins the New York company as protagonist Marty McFly. Back to the Future features a score by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard (which also incorporates “The Power of Love” and “Johnny B. Goode” from the film), book by Bob Gale, choreography by Chris Bailey, and direction by John Rando.

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Composer Tim Minchin and librettist Dennis Kelly saw through the eyes of an extraordinary child when they adapted Roald Dahl’s novel and subsequent 1996 film Matilda for the West End stage in late 2011. Following much critical praise and smashing box office records at the Cambridge Theatre, the tuner won a then-record seven 2012 Olivier Awards, including best new musical. A Broadway transfer followed in the spring of 2013; cast members Lauren Ward and Bertie Carvel came over and were both nominated for Tonys as teacher Miss Honey and headmistress Miss Trunchbull, respectively. After a 4-year run at the Shubert Theatre — and with the West End production still running — a film adaptation of the musical was released by TriStar Pictures for the 2022 holiday season and is now available to stream on Netflix.

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Billy Elliott

Billy Elliot also found great success as an onstage spectacle based on a film. With a moving story about a motherless boy who becomes a ballerina, and with a thrilling pop score by Sir Elton John and Lee Hall, it won the 2006 Olivier Award for best new musical. It played over a decade in London, whereas the subsequent Broadway production closed a hit after just three years at the Imperial Theatre and ten 2009 Tony wins, including best musical (Haydn Gwynne transferred with the production and received a nomination for playing ballet instructor Mrs. Wilkinson). Billy Elliot was filmed live for a proshot in 2014 from its West End home, the Victoria Palace Theatre, and it premiered on PBS’s “Great Performances” the following year.  

During the height of the “British Invasion” of mega-musicals, three Andrew Lloyd Webber shows won Olivier gold and ended up finding similar success overseas. First came the Eva Perón cantata Evita, which, when it came to Broadway for the first time in 1979, became the first British musical to win the Tony for best musical. Following a 2012 revival, another remount — directed by Sammi Cannold — is aiming for Broadway in the upcoming season. 1981’s Cats — which set Lloyd Webber’s compositions to T.S. Eliot’s poems about the Jellicle tribe — ran for 18 years at the Winter Garden Theatre and became the longest-running musical in Broadway history at the time. That was bested by his 1986 Gothic melodrama The Phantom of the Opera, the black-and-white behemoth set to conclude its astounding 35-year New York run on April 16. 

Broadway has also played host to many Olivier-winning musical revivals (the prize was known as “Outstanding Musical Production” from 1997 to 2007). The third-ever winner for best musical revival was 1993’s Carousel. Director Nicholas Hytner’s reimagined vision of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic sold out its strictly limited London run before it transferred to Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater the following year. Notably, Enoch Snow and Carrie Pipperidge were cast as an interracial couple; Audra McDonald’s performance as the latter won her the first of her six Tonys to this day. 

Five years later, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! was given a darker side by director Trevor Nunn and choreographer Susan Stroman, and it was performed by an international cast. After winning several 1999 Oliviers, the attempt to transfer to Broadway with the entire London cast intact was thwarted by Actor’s Equity Association, which called for an all-American cast. The Broadway transfer came to fruition in 2002, but only with Josefina Gabrielle (as Laurie) and Shuler Hensley (as Jud Fry) making the move. 

An intimate 2006 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George — starring Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell — marked its first such remount. Following a 5-win outing at the 2007 Oliviers, Roundabout Theatre Company brought it to New York, and it played Studio 54 for a limited run in 2008, which was extended three times.

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La Cage aux Folles

Intimacy was also the key in the 2008 London revival of Jerry Herman’s La Cage aux Folles, where Douglas Hodge earned raves for playing the aging drag star of the titular nightclub. It was originally set for a limited engagement but became open-ended as it found success. Shortly after it closed in January 2010, it transferred to Broadway that spring, with Hodge intact; the production had also recruited Kelsey Grammer to play his husband. Both Hodge and the show itself won Oliviers and Tonys for actor in a musical and musical revival. 

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In 2018, Marianne Elliott staged a neon-heavy, highly inventive, partially gender-swapped production of Sondheim’s Company at the Gielgud Theatre, as the bachelor Bobby became a female character, and a same-sex couple was featured for the first time in the show’s history. On the heels of ecstatic reviews, a Broadway transfer began previews on March 2, 2020 and was set to officially open on March 22 — Sondheim’s 90th birthday — but it was pushed back because of the COVID shutdown. It finally resumed previews at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on November 15, 2021, when Sondheim got to see it one final time before he died just over a week later. The production and featured actress Patti LuPone (who played the acerbic Joanne) won Oliviers and Tonys.

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Phantom of the Opera

Interestingly, Broadway has seen many more Olivier-winning plays make their way to the United States. With that comes a fascinating recent trend: as of this writing, every best new play winner since 2015 has eventually transferred to Broadway. These include King Charles III, Hangmen, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Ferryman, The Inheritance, Leopoldstadt, and Life of Pi. If Prima Facie takes home top honors on April 2, the streak will continue (New York previews begin at the Golden Theatre on April 11 before an April 23 opening). 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

2010 and 2011 victors The Mountaintop and Clybourne Park both arrived on Broadway in the 2011-12 season, with the latter finding more success by winning best play at the 2012 Tonys. Murder mystery The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time — also directed by Elliott — won London’s big prize in 2013 before transferring to Broadway the following year and setting up a dominant 2015 Tony night. Other notable Olivier-winning new play transfers from years past include The History Boys (starring a then-lesser-known James Corden), The Pillowman, Vincent in Brixton, Betrayal, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and Arcadia.

Olivier-winning play revivals have also found Broadway homes, though these occurrences have been far less common than new plays (partially because the Play Revival category at the Oliviers did not exist from 1996-2002). A 1992 National Theatre production of An Inspector Calls — in which director Stephen Daldry referenced the post-World War II era, as well as the play’s pre-World War I setting to make it more politically relevant — transferred to the Royale Theatre (now the Jacobs) in the spring of 1994 and won top honors overseas as well. 

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Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge

Ivo van Hove directed a 2014 minimalist revival of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge at the Old Vic, stripping the play down to its bare structure. The entire London cast — led by Olivier winner Mark Strong — transferred with the production for a fall 2015 New York staging at the Lyceum Theatre, and the show and van Hove won Tonys and Oliviers for emphasizing the emotional upheaval of Miller’s work. 

Angels in America Perestroika

Finally, another game-changing Elliott revival won raves in both London and New York, as she reimagined Tony Kushner’s AIDS crisis masterwork Angels in America for the 21st century. The star-studded, much-acclaimed event was led by film and TV actors Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane, who both made the transfer (and won Tonys, along with the revival). After being nominated for six 2017 Oliviers, winning for Play Revival, the 2018 Broadway iteration at the Neil Simon Theatre received eleven of them, the most ever nominations by any play at the time. 


Nathan Lane to Play Every Role on Broadway

In a shocking and unprecedented move, the Broadway community has announced that Nathan Lane will be taking on every iconic role on Broadway, all at the same time. The decision comes after months of speculation about who would take on the most coveted roles on the Great Bright Way, and it seems that Lane was the only actor brave enough to take on the challenge.

Starting next month, Lane will be performing as every character in every show currently running on Broadway. From Hamilton to Wicked, from Phantom of the Opera to The Lion King, Lane will be the only actor on stage, playing every part simultaneously, including his current hit, Pictures From Home. The feat is one that has never been attempted before, and experts predict that Lane will be breaking all kinds of records for his sheer stamina and talent.

Nathan Lane in Pictures From Home

When asked about the decision to take on every role on Broadway, Lane was characteristically modest. “Well, I’ve always been a bit of an overachiever,” he said with a grin. “I figured, why not take on the biggest challenge of my career and play every part at once?”

The news has sent shockwaves through the Broadway community, with fans and critics alike speculating about how Lane will pull off such a feat. Some have suggested that he will need to have multiple body doubles, while others have speculated that he will be wearing elaborate prosthetics to make himself look like each character.

Nathan Lane in November

In any case, Lane has assured fans that he is up for the challenge. “I’ve been training for months, and I feel like I’m ready to take on this incredible challenge,” he said. “I can’t wait to show the world what I’m capable of.”

The announcement has led to a frenzy of ticket sales, with many fans eager to see Lane’s incredible performance. There are already rumors that the show will be extended indefinitely, with Lane performing every night for the foreseeable future.

Of course, there have been a few skeptics, who have suggested that the whole thing is an elaborate April Fool’s Day prank. But Lane has assured fans that it is indeed true, and that he is ready to take on this incredible challenge.

So, mark your calendars for April 1st, and get ready to witness the most incredible feat in Broadway history. Nathan Lane will be stepping into every iconic role on Broadway, and he’s ready to take on the challenge with grace, humor, and a whole lot of talent. After that, you can catch him 8 times a week in Pictures From Home until April 30th.


Larry Sultan and Pictures From Home

Now in its final weeks on Broadway, Pictures From Home is a tribute to Larry Sultan’s work and his unique perspective on family and photography. The play, written by Sharr White and directed by Bartlett Sher, is an adaptation of Sultan’s book of the same name. It explores the relationship between Sultan and his parents through a series of vignettes that recreate his photographs on stage.

Larry Sultan was an American photographer whose work focused on everyday life, particularly the lives of his own family members. He was born in 1946 in Brooklyn, New York, but spent most of his life in California. Sultan studied photography at San Francisco Art Institute and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

Sultan’s work has been described as “a sustained meditation on the relationship between family and photography.” His photographs often depicted his parents, with whom he had a complex and sometimes fraught relationship. He also explored themes of suburban life, domesticity, and the construction of identity.

Sultan’s most famous project, “Pictures from Home,” began in the 1980s and continued for over a decade. The project was based on his relationship with his parents and his childhood home in the San Fernando Valley. Sultan photographed his parents and their home, as well as the surrounding landscape and architecture, in a way that was both intimate and detached.

The play has been praised for its ability to capture the emotional depth of Sultan’s work and for its authenticity in bringing his unique perspective to life on stage. The play’s star, Danny Burstein, has been particularly praised for his portrayal of Sultan, capturing the photographer’s complex relationship with his parents and the emotions that underpinned his work.

Nathan Lane’s portrayal in Pictures from Home has been widely praised for its emotional depth and authenticity. Lane plays the role of Larry Sultan’s father, and he captures the complex relationship between father and son in a way that is both moving and nuanced. Lane brings a sense of gravitas to the role, infusing it with humor and vulnerability, and creating a character that is both flawed and sympathetic. Critics have hailed Lane’s performance as one of the highlights of the play, and audiences have been moved by his portrayal of a father struggling to connect with his son.

One of the things that makes Sultan’s work so powerful is its ability to capture the complexity of family relationships. In “Pictures From Home,” Sultan’s photographs are recreated on stage, giving audiences a chance to see his unique perspective in action.

Pictures From Home plays until April 30th at Studio 54 Theater in New York.


Kimber Elayne Sprawl on Making Wicked History

Kimber Elayne Sprawl has made history with her portrayal of Nessarose in the hit musical Wicked. Sprawl is the first Black actor to play the role. In a recent interview with Jim Glaub, Sprawl opened up about her experience breaking barriers and her journey to becoming a Broadway performer.

Congratulations on your return to Broadway after your incredible run with Girl From The North Country. How does it feel to be back on the Rialto?

I feel so grateful! Broadway is hard and it’s a blessing to be working. I don’t take that for granted. This is my fourth Broadway show and I couldn’t be happier.

And making history as the first Black Nessarose. What does it feel to be stepping into an iconic role in an long-running musical.

I think the most rewarding part of making history as the first Black Nessarose is that I get to inspire other little Black girls to dream beyond the imagination of others. I never saw myself in Wicked because there were very few people who looked like me on stage. Brittany Johnson and Jordan Barrow changed my prospective as the first Black Glinda and Boq. I hope to do the same for other artists and for the creatives behind the table. 

Photo by Caitlin McNaney 

How different is it going from a brand new musical to a long running hit like Wicked? And from Bob Dylan to Stephen Schwartz!

They’re vastly different and uniquely special. Girl from the North Country and Wicked live in contrasting worlds musically, stylistically, dramaturgically and that’s great for me to stretch myself as an artist. In GFTNC, I created a role and that’ll always have a special place in my heart. In Wicked, I get to carry on a legacy and become a special part of its history. 

There’s major fandom around this musical, have you had any experiences with the fans yet?

Omg yes! This girl made a whole TikTok post about how excited she was that I was joining the cast. The girl had box braids just like the ones I have in the show and she was so deeply affected by that. She was crying and then I was crying. She felt seen by seeing me. Representation matters. There has been a flood of positivity and love around me assuming this role; it’s beautiful. 

What is it about Wicked that keeps people coming back again after 18 years on Broadway?

I mean, Wicked has everything! The last time I saw the show was in 2014 when my friend, Ryan Vasquez, made his Broadway debut. I was as memorized now as I was then. The music is iconic, the costumes are iconic, the book is great, and the set in spectacular. What’s even more impressive is that everyone who is still involved with the show is so invested and does their job with such skill and pride. 

You have been an advocate for change and created movements using art centered around equity and inclusion, how do you hope this turn as Nessarose will help further this mission?

I don’t know! I’m sure something will reveal itself and I’ll be ready to jump in. Sometimes you have to lead by minding your own business. At the moment, I’m enjoying just being Nessa. 


Irish Theatre Part II

By Jordan Levinson

The annual celebration of St. Patricks Day marks the anniversary of the death day of the most prominent patron saint and national apostle of Ireland; he is notably credited with bringing Christianity to its people. It is an international holiday today, but the Irish have observed St. Patrick’s Day as a religious observance since around the 9th or 10th century — over 1,000 years by now. Through parades, parties, and food aplenty, people around the world love celebrating their Irish heritage on this day. It notably takes place in the middle of Lent, the period commemorating the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert fasting, so there are strict dietary rules and restrictions to follow. However, since St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday in 2023, the rules are a bit laxer — observers are more than welcome to eat meat on March 17 only (Shepherd’s Pie and corned beef and cabbage are traditional dishes for the holiday).

It has long been known that the Irish have a way with words and use them to tell the most wonderful stories, so seeing as St. Patrick’s Day is an international appreciation and celebration of Irish culture, this article will shine a light on some successful Irish playwrights who have seen their work take shape on Broadway’s stages:

Early in the 20th century, Dublin-born John Millington Synge — a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival (which saw a renewed interest in aspects of Celtic writing) — wrote many plays about Irish rural life before his 1909 death. His most notable play is The Playboy of the Western World, which has been seen eight times on Broadway in a 60-year span (1911-1971). It is centered on Christy Mahon, a young man who runs away from his farm and pretends that he has committed patricide. When it first premiered in Ireland in 1907, it was the subject of public controversy amongst republicans, as they claimed the play’s message and themes were an insult to the nation. The Playboy Riots broke out on its opening night before press opinion eventually turned against the rioters. Other Synge plays that came to Broadway include his first play, The Shadow of the Glen, Riders to the Sea, and The Well of the Saints; all of these had multiple runs throughout the 20th century.

From left, Orlagh Cassidy, Rachel Pickup, Aedin Moloney and Annabel Hägg in "Dancing at Lughnasa," directed by Charlotte Moore at the Irish Repertory Theater.

Orlagh Cassidy, Rachel Pickup, Aedin Moloney and Annabel Hägg in “Dancing at Lughnasa,” at the Irish Repertory Theater in 2011 (Carol Rosegg)

Brian Friel, known to some as “the Irish Chekhov”, is considered one of the greatest English-language dramatists, and his work was compared favorably to some of his fellow contemporaries. Friel’s plays were all written in the second half of the 20th century. 14 of them take place in a fictional town he liked to call Ballyweg (Irish for “small town”), one being Dancing at Lughnasa, which won him the 1992 Tony for best play. A memory play, it follows narrator Michael Evans, who recalls a summer he spent with his mother and her four sisters in a cottage when he was seven. Dancing at Lughnasa was adapted into a 1998 movie, directed by Irishman Pat O’Connor, and starring Meryl Streep as one of the sisters. Other works include Faith Healer (last seen on Broadway in 2006 with Ralph Fiennes and Cherry Jones), Translations (which got a 2007 Roundabout Theatre Company revival), and the two-sided relocation comedy Philadelphia, Here I Come!

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Brian Bedford, Dana Ivey, David Furr, and Santino Fontana in Roundabout Theater Company’s 2011 The Importance of Being Earnest (Sara Krulwich)

In the late 19th century, a young man named Oscar Fingal O’Fflahertie Wills Wilde rose to fame as an avid spokesperson for aestheticism, making him one of the most striking personalities of his day. One of his most notable dramatic pieces — and the final comedy he wrote — is The Importance of Being Earnest, a farce where the protagonists adapt fictitious personas just so they can escape burdensome social obligations. The play’s premiere was successful, and it has been revived many times ever since. The original Broadway production opened in 1895 at the Empire Theatre and was produced by Charles Frohman; it most recently received a Roundabout remount in 2011, starring Tootsie Tony winner Santino Fontana. Oscar Wilde is also known for the Biblical legend dramatization Salome, the upper-class comedy Lady Windermere’s Fan, and the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

One of the key figures in the mid-20th century Theatre of the Absurd era, Samuel Beckett made himself known with his minimalist plays that focused on tragicomic life experiences, coupled with lots of nonsense. His Waiting for Godot tracks two men who have a variety of conversations under a leafless tree as they wait for the titular Godot, who never arrives. After first opening in France in 1953, it came to Broadway three years later and quickly became one of Beckett’s best-known works, with Bert Lahr — the Cowardly Lion in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” — receiving praise for his turn as Estragon. Another popular Beckett play is the post-apocalyptic Endgame, a revival of which is currently playing through April 9 at New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre, starring Bill Irwin and John Douglas Thompson. 

Playwright and political activist George Bernard Shaw became the leading writer of his generation, as he wrote more than 60 dramatic works from the 1880s until his 1950 death. Much of Shaw’s work highlights his uncanny ability to contrast reality with conventional wisdom. The most known Shavian play is Pygmalion, about an English phonetics professor who changes the speech of a Cockney flower girl and passes her off as a duchess. The reality here, for instance, is that the lower class is just as smart as the upper class. Pygmalion received the musical treatment in the lush, “loverly” My Fair Lady, and the play has also been adapted into countless films and TV shows. Other Shaw plays include Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Saint Joan, and Man and Superman

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David Patrick Kelly, David Abeles, Erikka Walsh, Andy Taylor, Paul Whitty, Carlos Valdes, J. Michael Zygo in Once on Broadway (Joan Marcus)

Another native Dubliner, Enda Walsh has written musicals, straight plays, radio plays, art installations, and even an opera in his theatrical career so far. Walsh himself has stated that his works are all about “some kind of love and need for calm and peace.” He is best known for writing the Tony-winning book for the stage adaptation of the indie film Once, which also won the 2012 Tony for best musical and ran for three years on Broadway. Walsh collaborated with David Bowie on the 2015 musical Lazarus, which played New York Theatre Workshop right before Bowie died. He also adapted the unabashedly Irish coming-of-age story Sing Street for the stage; after a successful run at NYTW, it was set to open on Broadway in April 2020, which never happened due to the pandemic shutdown. After a second tryout at Boston’s Huntington Stage in the summer of 2022, however, there could be a bright future in sight for the title. 

Todd Almond, center, and the ensemble of “Girl From the North Country.”

Todd Almond, center, and the ensemble of “Girl From the North Country.” (Sara Krulwich)

Like Walsh, Conor McPherson has also instilled himself as one of the great contemporary Irish playwrights. His 2006 play The Seafarer, about an alcoholic who lives with his aging brother during the holiday season and tries to stay sober, marked McPherson’s National Theatre debut; a Broadway production opened in late 2007 and garnered a best play Tony nomination. McPherson wrote the book for the Bob Dylan jukebox musical Girl from the North Country, which garnered raves in the West End and became the final Broadway production to officially open before the COVID shutdown; a national tour will begin in fall 2023. The Duluth, Minnesota-set piece was filmed on Broadway for a future proshot release; a more traditional film adaptation is also in the works and is set to star Olivia Colman, Woody Harrelson, and Chloe Bailey. 

Finally, Martin McDonagh has made his mark in dark comedy, both for the screen and the stage. His first six plays are separated into two trilogies, and they all take place around where he spent his holidays as a child. McDonagh fictionalized the perils of totalitarianism in The Pillowman, his first non-Irish play. The United States was the location of A Behanding in Spokane, about a mysterious man searching for his left hand for over 25 years. The Pillowman and A Behanding in Spokane both received Broadway runs, with lead actor Christopher Walken winning a Tony for the latter in 2010. Also making it to the Main Stem were The Lieutenant of Inishmore, in 2006, and the Tony-nominated best play Hangmen, which opened in 2022 after over a two-year delay. 


Looking back at Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening is a Tony Award-winning musical that premiered on Broadway in 2006, based on the 1891 German play of the same name by Frank Wedekind. With music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater, Spring Awakening explores the journey of a group of teenagers as they navigate the challenges of adolescence in a repressive society.

Set in 19th-century Germany, the musical tells the story of Melchior, Wendla, and Moritz, three teenagers who grapple with their burgeoning sexuality, identity, and desires in a society that refuses to acknowledge these issues. The musical’s themes include sexual awakening, rebellion against authority, the consequences of silence, and the power of friendship.

One of the most striking aspects of Spring Awakening is its use of rock music to tell its story. The score, composed by Duncan Sheik, features guitar-driven rock songs that convey the characters’ inner turmoil and angst. The music is both energetic and haunting, drawing the audience into the emotional journey of the characters. The lyrics, written by Steven Sater, are poetic and poignant, capturing the struggles of adolescence in a way that is both timeless and timely.

In addition to its music, Spring Awakening is notable for its bold and daring staging. The show features minimalistic sets and costumes, with the actors often performing on a bare stage. This simplicity allows the focus to be on the characters and their stories, and the show’s choreography is used to great effect in conveying the characters’ emotions and inner lives. The use of microphones and amplifiers also helps to create a sense of intimacy between the performers and the audience.

One of the most powerful themes in Spring Awakening is the idea of silence and its consequences. The characters in the show are all struggling with something, whether it be sexual desires, family issues, or social pressures, but they are unable to speak openly about these issues. The consequences of this silence are devastating, leading to misunderstandings, missed opportunities, and even tragedy. The show emphasizes the importance of open and honest communication, and the dangers of repressing one’s emotions and desires.

Another key theme in Spring Awakening is the power of friendship. The characters in the show form strong bonds with each other, supporting each other through difficult times and helping each other find their way in the world. This sense of camaraderie is particularly important in a society that is so repressive, where the characters feel isolated and alone in their struggles. The show emphasizes the importance of finding a community of like-minded individuals who can provide support and understanding.

Spring Awakening is a powerful and thought-provoking musical that continues to resonate with audiences today. Its exploration of themes like sexual awakening, rebellion, and the consequences of silence is as relevant now as it was when the show premiered in 2006. The show’s use of rock music and minimalist staging creates an immersive experience that draws the audience into the characters’ emotional journey. And its message of the power of friendship and the dangers of repressing one’s emotions is a timely reminder of the importance of open and honest communication. Spring Awakening is a must-see musical for anyone interested in exploring the complexities of adolescence and the human experience.


Irish Theatre on Broadway

By Jordan Levinson

Irish theatre has a long and storied history on Broadway, dating back to the early 20th century. From the works of great Irish playwrights like George Bernard Shaw and Sean O’Casey to contemporary productions like “The Ferryman,” Irish theatre has made a significant impact on the Broadway stage.

George Bernard Shaw at Shaw’s Corner, his home for 44 years (photo: Granger Historical Picture Archive / Alamy Stock Photo)

One of the earliest examples of Irish theatre on Broadway was George Bernard Shaw’s “John Bull’s Other Island,” which premiered in 1904. The play tells the story of an Englishman who travels to Ireland to build a hydroelectric power plant, but finds himself at odds with the locals and their way of life. The play was a success and helped establish Shaw as one of the leading playwrights of his time.

From left, Adam Petherbridge, Clare O’Malley, John Keating and Ed Malone in “The Plough and the Stars.”

Another notable Irish playwright who made an impact on Broadway was Sean O’Casey. His plays, including “Juno and the Paycock” and “The Plough and the Stars,” dealt with the struggles of working-class Irish families during the early 20th century. These plays were praised for their realistic depictions of life in Ireland and helped introduce American audiences to the political and social issues of the time.

The Weir 1999 Broadway Production Photo

A new generation of Irish playwrights emerged, including Brian Friel and Conor McPherson. Friel’s “Dancing at Lughnasa” (1991) tells the story of five unmarried sisters living in rural Ireland in 1936, while McPherson’s “The Weir” (1999) is a ghost story set in a remote Irish pub. Both plays were critical and commercial successes on Broadway, and helped establish Ireland as a major force in contemporary theatre.

In recent years, Irish theatre has continued to make an impact on Broadway. In 2012, “Once,” a musical based on the 2006 film of the same name, premiered on Broadway and went on to win eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The show, which tells the story of a Dublin street musician and a Czech immigrant who fall in love, was praised for its heartfelt music and authentic portrayal of life in Dublin.

Another recent Irish production that made waves on Broadway was “The Ferryman,” a play by Jez Butterworth that premiered in 2018. Set in rural Northern Ireland during the Troubles, the play tells the story of a family caught up in the conflict. “The Ferryman” was praised for its powerful performances and gripping storytelling, and won four Tony Awards, including Best Play.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

You cannot write a piece about Irish theatre without playwright Martin McDonagh, a renowned Irish playwright and screenwriter who has made significant contributions to Broadway. He is best known for his dark comedies and exploration of human nature through his works. McDonagh made his Broadway debut in 1998 with “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” which was critically acclaimed and won four Tony Awards, including Best Play. He followed this up with “The Lonesome West” and “The Pillowman,” both of which were also well-received by audiences and critics. McDonagh’s works have brought a unique voice to Broadway, with their dark humor and complex characters. His contributions to the world of theater have helped to shape and define the modern stage, and his influence continues to be felt in productions around the world.

Gabriel Byrne’s “Walking With Ghosts”

Irish theatre on Broadway has also provided a platform for Irish actors to showcase their talent. Actors like Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, and Saoirse Ronan have all appeared in Irish productions on Broadway, helping to raise the profile of Irish theatre in the United States.

Irish plays have captivated audiences with their poignant storytelling and authentic depictions of Irish life. As long as there are talented Irish playwrights and actors, Irish theatre will continue to thrive on the Broadway stage.

Capsule Reviews

Capsule Reviews: A Dolls House

                                                                                                                                                  MARRIAGE NORWEIGAN STYLE

By Dori Campbell

Jamie Lloyd may be the most exciting director to come to Broadway since Ivo Van Hove caused a stir with “A View From the Bridge”….Lloyd’s productions of “Betrayal” and “Cyrano De Bergerac” were revelatory and now with “A Doll’s House” he adds another illuminating credit to his impressive resume.   From the moment you walk into the Hudson Theatre you are thrust into theatricality, for seated onstage in a spare setting is the Nora of this production:  Jessica Chastain.  Eventually her cast members will join here, before the lights dim, and the actual play begins, but the signal is clear:  this will be “A Doll’s House” unlike any previous production of the play.   There are no children in this production, no nanny, no maid and the conclusion which involves a decision by Nora to leave her current existence is new and startling, all of this courtesy of  Amy Herzog’s efficient and smart adaptation of the Ibsen classic.  The play has been streamlined into one act that serves the classic Ibsen text handsomely.   The praiseworthy performances in support of the excellent Ms. Chastain include Arian Moayed, Michael Patrick Thornton, Jesmille Darbouze, Tasha Lawrence and Okieriete Onaodowan.    In a year rich with superlative revivals, including “Top/Dog, Under/Dog”, “Death of a Salesman”, “Between Riverside and Crazy” and “Ohio State Murders”,  we must now include  “A Doll’s House”.

Photo by Emilio Madrid

By Noah Price

Academy Award winner Jessica Chastain has returned to the stage in a beautifully raw new production of A Doll’s House at the Hudson Theatre. Amy Herzog’s new adaptation succeeds in a way that makes the classic feel clear and current, while simultaneously reminding us just how ahead of his time Ibsen was. The wonderful ensemble of actors do all the heavy lifting on an empty stage, with monochromatic costumes and no props. Chastain holds your attention from the moment you walk in the theatre, perched like a sculpture (or doll) upon a chair rotating the stage during preshow. Make no mistake, this is her show from top to bottom. She plays most of the dialogue straight, only allowing herself emotional release towards the middle act. (It runs without intermission). She is locked into this journey and I was staring into her eyes looking for clues as to where she would go next. Nora’s famous exit will have you debating your seatmate. Tony nominee Arian Moayed (Succession) finds subtlety and layers to Torvald. And Michael Patrick Thornton is wonderful and lovable as Dr. Rank. 


Politically Correct Broadway?

By Robyn Roberts

What does that look like in the days of so-called “wokeness” and cancel culture when it comes down to some of the most celebrated storytelling for over a century on the stage. Do Broadway theatre plays and musicals of yore like Oklahoma! and Peter Pan stand a chance for survival after a revival?

We’ve grown up with these beloved stories. Our grandparents handed them down to our parents who then shared them with us. In our hearts and minds we’ve flown to Neverland with Wendy and danced with Laurey on her Oklahoma! farm. These stories have been shared across the globe, told through picture books, through TV and film and live on stage, much to our immense pleasure wrapped in that thing that everyone eventually loves and comes to rely on—nostalgia. 

Meanwhile, kids and adults a little different than us have seen the same stories unfold on their TVs and before them on stage only to be left with feelings of pain and disappointment. Political correctness is a delicate dance and topic of serious contention today in the Internet Age of access. Even broaching the subject in a small group setting of peers needs to be delicately handled and sincerely considered prior to even a hint of execution. 

It’s true that you can’t please them all, but if Corporate America has taught us anything in the past decade it’s that money talks and is forever the loudest voice in the room and if the majority of spenders demand a small edit of a dated piece of art then by all means give it to them. Dollars aside, for such an inclusive space as the theatre and Broadway are forever meant to be, then light tweaks and edits must take shape on stage to sustain momentum. The theatre is also the perfect place for reinvention, is it not? We’re artists after all, and it’s our duty to shapeshift into the colorful reflections of the wide audience before us, and to do so responsibly. We aren’t taking these stories away from the masses nor are we aiming to revise history. Rather, we’re simply giving them a fresher, improved story version that’s a little less sloppy than its former self. And who doesn’t love a strong comeback? 

Follow along, as we delve into some of Broadway’s most celebrated plays and musicals to-date, and how they’ve been perfected (or should be) to be a little less problematic and a lot more accurate. 

The company of Roundabout Theatre Company’s 1776. Photo by Joan Marcus, 2022.


The year marks the time when 13 American colonies severed ties from Great Britain to claim their independence. The 1969 Broadway musical based on the book by Peter Stone tells the story in the lead up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The 2022 Broadway revival production includes an excerpt of Abigail Adams’ March 1776 letter to John Adams, known for its “remember the ladies” statement for women’s rights. The show received mixed to negative reviews, with Jesse Green of The New York Times criticizing its casting of female, trans, and binary actors, writing that it “intensifies and complicates the argument.” Green also wrote of the overall production that despite “underlining one’s progressiveness a thousand times, as this 1776 does, [it] will not actually convey it better; rather it turns characters into cutouts and distracts from the ideas it means to promote.”

The 2019 Broadway cast of Oklahoma! © Little Fang Photo


A Rodgers and Hammerstein musical debuted on Broadway in 1943. In the 2019 Broadway adaptation, the production’s most important tonal change involved the character of Jud Fry. Instead of the sinister brooding and threatening (ahem—rapist) Jud of the original production, in the revival he is depicted in a positive, sympathetic light, and his death came, not as an accident, but as an intended act at the hands of Curly, followed by a sham trial to clear Curly of the blame. Ali Stroker as Ado Annie won Best Featured Actress in a Musical Award, making her the first wheelchair bound artist to win a coveted Tony. Critics and audiences are loving the West End Revival currently running.

Jessie Mueller as Julie Jordan and Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow in the revival of “Carousel.”Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times


Another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical from 1945. By the 2018 Broadway revival, most of the reviewers agreed that while the choreography and performances (especially the singing) were excellent, characterizing the production as sexy and sumptuous, O’Brien’s direction did little to help the show deal with modern sensibilities about men’s treatment of women, instead indulging in nostalgia. A missed opportunity. However, songs such as “There’s nothin’ so bad for a woman” were cut from production. 

Paige Simunovich as Diana, Christopher Fitzgerald as Og and Christopher Borger as Henry in Finian’s Rainbow.

Finian’s Rainbow

A 1947 Broadway musical that has faced several revivals since. Forget the leprechaun of this Irish-American inspired musical, it’s the bigoted U.S. Senator who’s turned Black by witchcraft and is taught that it doesn’t matter what “his outside looks like—being Black—only the inside counts” that’s a bit problematic. 

How to Succeed in Business Tony Performance

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

A 1961 Broadway musical. Critics would say the Broadway play objectifies women in the office/business culture of male dominance. Songs like “ How to Keep His Dinner Warm” and a scantily clad “World Wide Wicket Treasure Girl”, whatever that means, are just some of the reasons. In 2011, Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times opined that the musical “is hampered by a dated book” and that its “episodic structure now seems as belabored as a sitcom plucked from a rusty time capsule”, while “all the romantic brouhaha with moony secretaries is beyond retro.”

Larissa Fasthorse to pen the new book for Peter Pan.

Peter Pan

Misogyny, unhinged Native American portrayals, and gender roles. Broadway’s first Native American playwright, Larissa FastHorse, says: “I’m adapting a musical that already exists that toured for 30 years nonstop. It’s something that works. So we just have to make it so it’s not harmful and try not to screw that up. You know what I mean? We don’t have to make a new thing, we just have to take away the harm of the old thing and make it hopefully even better in some ways.” In a recent interview about her Thanksgiving play, FastHorse also said, “The traditional “Peter Pan” puts Native Americans in that realm of the fantastical, as if we were extinct. But we’re here, alive and creative, not better or worse than anyone else.”

The cherished fable was recently revived for a smaller stage production by another Native American writer and was received positively. “The Neverland,” a modern-day adaptation of “Peter Pan,” premiered at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in (The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) Illinois in April 2022. The theatre department premier reimagined “Peter Pan” centered on Indigenous identity. Playwright Madeline Sayet is the executive director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program and a citizen of the Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut. She often reimagines classic stories in her work.

There are many Broadway stories ripe for upgrades, and the aforementioned are merely a few. Miss Saigon has been faulted for its portrayals of Asian characters, while the Minneapolis Musical Theatre’s production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson last summer at the New Century theatre drew protests.

Nationally, Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre drew condemnation for passing along Kipling’s racialist and misogynistic views, while La Jolla Playhouse’s musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale was skewered for being set in China but featuring a cast whose leading characters were not Asian-American. If off-off Broadway is showing little mercy to such obvious innuendos then Broadway should certainly pay close attention. 

Devoted fans of centuries-old stories and fables and productions will have the ultimate say in what’s successful on stage now, and in the future. In the meantime, it’s far more responsible to continue to address dated or flat-out wrong representation in the arts, rather than leave it be as it sits. It’s simply improvement—not erasure. Besides, the Broadway stage is the perfect setting for a stunning revival.