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A recap of the 2023-2024 Broadway season: plays

The 76th Tony Awards are coming up, with nominations coming out on April 30. That will be when everyone finds out the absolute best of the best when it comes to theater. The announcement is one that all theatre fans are looking forward to. Often, when it comes to the theatre scene and nominations, people often pay attention to the musicals. While the musicals may be the shows filled with energy and the greater excitement, there are still plenty of plays that deserve attention. There are myriad plays premiering and so many of them are unique yet personal on stage. They can have a more grounded presence with fascinating stories. Furthermore, a straight play is where the star power is more likely to be seen. This season, a lot of play productions made their Broadway premiere and captivated audiences for the first time. Because of the amount of plays, it may be hard to keep track of everything and understand what the best plays from the season are. Here is all of the knowledge that you could possibly need for the plays that premiered this season, so that you will know what you may like and what the Tony voters may like.

The beginning of the season started off on an amusing note in terms of the first few plays. Two of the first plays of the season may have been total opposites, but they both brought some big stars. There was “The Cottage,” a hilarious play made up of secrets, love and possibly murder in the 1920s. The cast of this play includes Eric McCormack, Laura Bell Bundy, Alex Moffat and more. Many people found it amusing, but it likely will not be memorable enough to leave a mark at the Tonys. The other early play was “Grey House,” a horror play about a couple that finds shelter in an old cabin filled with mysterious encounters. The play’s cast includes Tatiana Maslany and Laurie Metcalf, among others. The play had a mixed reception, which is likely due to horror being a bit tricky for Broadway, especially when it premieres in the middle of summer. Both of these plays closed last year. Later on, Broadway saw the premiere of “The Shark is Broken,” which went behind the scenes of the making of the popular film “Jaws.” It was written by Ian Shaw, who also stars as his father Robert Shaw in this production that also includes Alex Brightman. While “Jaws” is a popular film, not everyone has seen it and that can make this play difficult for everyone to follow, or care about. However, if you are a fan, this play would have been one you would enjoy. This play also closed in 2023. Another play with fame attached was “I Need That,” about a hoarder unwilling to give up his items. The play starred Danny Devito and his daughter Lucy Devito. While Danny Devito brings charisma and excellence to everything that he is in, this play did not stand out much last year before its closing. Finally, the last original play of last year was “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding,” a play that follows a salon run by West African immigrants over the course of a day. The play has had two extensions and people appreciate the original story that was told, which looks promising for nomination day. Overall, a lot of interesting material was brought forward in 2023, which led to excitement for 2024.

This spring, the new plays have kept on coming. Similar to the situation with new musicals, the new plays are trying to be the one that stands out over the others, leading to a lot of premieres. One of them is “Prayer for the French Republic,” a three hour show about Jewish people living in France and the antisemitic attacks that are happening all around them. This play is full of important themes, especially for modern society and with what is happening in the world. The positive reception looks promising for the play’s chances. “Prayer for the French Republic” was the only new play to premiere at the very beginning of 2024, meaning the rest of the new plays waited until April to fight for the final recognition. That includes “Stereophonic,” a play about a 1970s band trying to record their new album. It certainly is a bold choice to make a straight play about a band making music, but this play just might be able to pull that choice off. It received positive press in its pre-Broadway tryout and it looks like the Broadway production will follow that path. Then there is “Mary Jane,” which stars Rachel McAdams. The play follows a woman caring for her chronically ill son while building a community around her. It is also slightly based on a true story. The play has just begun and previous productions were years ago without McAdams, so it is a bit difficult to say how this play will do. Nevertheless, critics like plays that highlight family dynamics that also have big celebrities, so “Mary Jane” is bound to do at least a little well. Speaking of plays with that topic, another recent play premiering is “Mother Play,” which stars Jessica Lange and Jim Parsons. The play is about a woman who believes she can help her children’s lives, but she has a kind of tough approach. The play is making its premiere on Broadway, so there is not a lot known about this play. However, Lange brings power everywhere she goes, which should be enough for anyone to buy a ticket or for a voter to want to give nominations. Finally, in a completely different direction, there is the play “Patriots.” This play is about Boris Berezovsky, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, who is a Russian businessman who had a prominent role during the fall of the Soviet Union, which included pushing forward the rise of Vladimir Putin. The play was a quick transfer, as it was just recently on West End. This transfer is indicative of the play having previous success, which bodes well for Broadway. In addition, the play centers around important and serious topics, giving a deep look at a large change in power. It is the type of play that people will feel knowledgeable for seeing, which means the Tonys would want to nominate it for similar reasons. The list of plays from the season demonstrates that anyone can find enjoyment in plays. Whether you prefer to laugh, cry or think, this season has had a play for you at one point. Also, remember that plays have a short life, so the ones that are not closed will likely close soon, so get tickets for the open plays quickly.

The final type of shows opening on Broadway is the revival of plays. Considering how far back the history of plays goes, there are a lot of intriguing and thought-provoking plays to choose from. Some of them may feel dated, but the directors and actors have the ability to show why these stories need to be told again. However, what makes this category different from all of the others is that there were not a lot of play revivals this season. In fact, there were only five, with two premiering in 2023 and three premiering in 2024. The first was “Purlie Victorious,” which originally premiered in 1961. Starring Leslie Odom Jr., the play is about a traveling preacher trying to save his hometown. The production has already closed, but it was fairly well-received, which can still be promising for the Tonys. The other play revival that opened in 2023 was “Appropriate,” which stars Sarah Paulson, Elle Fanning, Corey Stoll and more. It is an example of the Tony’s classic rule, where the play previously had a notable Off-Broadway production, so it is now in the revival category. The play is about a dysfunctional family that is coming together to learn about inheritance from the family’s deceased theater. Not only has this play been extended twice, but one of the extensions led to a change in theaters, meaning the play was not letting a theater being full stop them from continuing. Considering Paulson’s large fanbase, it is no wonder why people want more of this show. Another big revival was “Doubt,” with Lieve Schreiber and Amy Ryan. Tyne Daly ‘67 was originally going to star in this production, but she unfortunately fell ill which led to Ryan taking over. This emotional production of the story of a priest accused of inappropriate relations with a minor still sticks with audiences today, which means it could still stick with Tony voters. There has also been “An Enemy of the People,” starring Jeremy Strong and Michael Imperioli. This production in the rounds is about a town hall where a man reveals the truth of contaminated water in the town. The play is originally from the 1880s, but the idea of standing up for your beliefs in the face of conflict is still a relevant theme that has created a lot of buzz. The final play revival is “Uncle Vanya” starring Steve Carell. This 1892 play about problems in the countryside has already been revived many times, but the talents of Steve Carell can easily bring in a crowd. Even though this is a small group of play revivals, these are all strong productions that are worthy of coming out on top.

Plays tend to have a shorter shelf life than musicals, likely due to them being less attention-grabbing and because tourists usually prefer to see all of the thrills that come with musicals. Because of that fact, many of these plays have either already closed or have set a date to close in the near future. However, a short run should not take away from the brilliance and masterful storytelling that some of these closing plays bring. It is all the more reason to see the currently running plays while you can. As for the ones that have already closed, you cross your fingers for regional touring or find as many clips as you can online. It is a lesson to keep an eye on the plays. Overall, there have been a great amount of plays premiering this season, which should make for a fairly competitive Tony Awards, which will air on June 16 on CBS. Some plays have been getting a lot of buzz for awards, such as “Stereophonic” and “Appropriate,” but it still feels like anything can happen. All will be known on Tony nomination day, where everyone will find out which plays stood out this season. After that, the competition to be the true best on awards night begins.

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