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  • The Cast of Stereophonic: Will Brill, Sarah Pidgeon, Juliana Canfield, Andrew R. Butler, Tom Pecinka, Chris Stack and Eli Gelb. (Photo: Kimberly Larkin for NYI)

    Stereophonic was the big winner at the 68th Drama Desk Awards, with victories in seven categories, including Outstanding Play. Water for Elephants earned four wins, while Off-Broadway’s Dead Outlaw won Best Musical.

    Dead Outlaw, The Outsiders, Stereophonic, and Suffs were among the most nominated shows.

    The awards honor shows and cast from the 2023-2024 season Off-Off-Broadway, Off-Broadway and Broadway.

    The Drama Desk is composed of dedicated theatre critics, journalists, editors and publishers who cover plays and musicals throughout the season.

    Winners and presenters spoke with The New York Independent at the NYU Skirball Center throughout the entertaining show, which was written by Steve Rosen and David Rossmer (The Other Josh Cohen) and directed by Lorin Lotarro.

    They reflected on their experiences while giving an insider’s look at their shows. Here are the reactions of stars and award winners in the production.

    Jessica Lange, Outstanding Lead Performance in a Play, Mother Play

    “This has been a thrilling season on Broadway. I’ve never done a cold open with a brand new play on Broadway before. It was a thrilling and terrifying experience. At least when you do O’Neill or Williams, you know the territory. This was all unknown. My character’s decisions, as a mother, are unforgivable, but they could be understandable in the context of the story we’re telling. It has all of the elements of tolerance and forgiveness. There’s a lot to unpack.”

    Sarah Paulson, Outstanding Lead Performance in a Play, Appropriate

    “It’s pretty unprecedented where you have a show start as non-for profit on Broadway [Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theatre], and move to a larger commercial space on Broadway [Belasco Theatre]. It is not lost on me what an extraordinary opportunity it is to continue to give Appropriate to more people. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play is so special and spurs a lot of conversation. One woman told me this was the first play she’s seen in a long time where she really had something to talk about when it’s over. I thought, ‘What an incredible thing!’  This week is our 200th performance of the play. The material is constantly revealing itself to me. It’s very exciting.”

    Enver Chakartash, Costume Design for a Play, Stereophonic

    “One of the things that I took away from the [original run Off-Broadway] at Playwrights Horizons was that I told the journey of the characters reaching this level of stardom, but I knew I could do it a lot better. So when we went to Broadway, I got the producers to put more money into the clothes. Then I did archival research and I thought about who the band would be buying clothes from.

    We had all of these amazing shoes made. The set is so beautiful and iconic, but it’s only one set. It can’t be any other way, so the challenge for me was that the lives of the characters are changing quite drastically outside of that recording studio. It’s interesting because you never see the band perform! It’s not like I could go crazy and do performance looks. I had to ask myself what would actually work within the context and give this idea that people have become successful. It was really fun to tell those stories through the clothes.”

    Cole Escola, Sam Norkin Off-Broadway Award, Oh, Mary!

    “This is my first work that’s ever been produced. I’m so used to creating work by myself, alone either in my apartment, or in some little room in the back of a bar. It’s a dream come true to be able to work in the theatre at all. I feel like I’m getting recognition for this show that I thought would never get mainstream or establishment recognition. I take it very seriously, but that it’s being recognized as art means a lot.”

    Patrick Page, Outstanding Solo Performance, All the Devils are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain

    “I don’t have a favorite villain, even though I do about a dozen different characters in this play. On any given night, a certain character will make him or herself more vivid and they’ll want my attention on that particular night. There will be certain nights where someone I expect to show up doesn’t show up as much. I am grateful for whoever shows up. On one night it may be Shylock or Claudius, on another night it might be Iago or Macbeth. It changes.

    “The first thing I try to impart on my students is to not judge the character. You can’t play a person if you judge them. I have to go further than not judging them; I have to love them as I would love my own family. If I found out my father were Iago, I would be appalled, but I would have to reconcile that with everything else I know about him. When you look deeply at a person’s background and you reverse engineer the character and why they’ve gotten to this particular point in their lives; you can find a lot of compassion for them.”

    James Monroe Iglehart, presenter

    “(Laughing)[If I had won a Drama Desk award for Spamalot], I would just want to say thank you to the cast, the wonderful producers, the great Eric Idle for writing the show, Josh Rhodes for our amazing choreography and direction…. I just want to thank myself, because, as the first African American man to ever play King Arthur on Broadway, I was wonderful. I was exactly where I should be. I was wearing a crown, people were adoring me, especially in what I do best–comedy. I was singing and dancing, and I was right in my element. This award is exactly where it should be–with me. Oh, wait! We closed (way too soon). I didn’t win this! This is all a dream. Oh god!

    My home girl, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, was nominated tonight [for Spamalot]. Working with her was one of the coolest moments of my entire life. That girl can sing her face off. Leslie is a beast of a performer and one of the sweetest people in the world. Her husband is one of the reasons I’m on Broadway. Vadim Faulkner cast me in Spelling Bee, which was my first show. I am so happy for her. There was never a performance where she phoned it in. That cast was crazy! We had so much fun. We closed way too early.

    Next up from me is A Wonderful World: The Louis Armstrong Musical. Everything you think you know about Louis Armstrong, you don’t know. I can’t wait for you to see the show and get to know him much better. A lot of the things that happened in music happened because of Louis. I realized that as an African American performer, I am standing on the shoulders of that man. He went through so much so that I could do what I do.”

    Shaina Taub, Outstanding Music, Suffs

    “The last decade of my career has been doing work Off-Broadway and I’m very proud of that. It has been amazing to make my Broadway debut this season. What is cool about theatre in New York is it is a big tent, and there’s room for all kinds of shows. What I love about Off Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway is it’s often more accessible and more affordable, so I think it’s beautiful to have a moment at the Drama Desk Awards where the whole community can celebrate.

    As Jews we say ‘dayenu,’ which means, ‘It would have been enough.’ That we got to open our show and make our cast album–dayenu. The fact that we’ve gotten to be embraced and to get this recognition has been beyond what we could have imagined. It’s a hard year, it’s an election year, and I think people are feeling despairing and cynical. I feel that way often. My hope is that we can hopefully provide people some deep sense of uplift. I hope that we can send people back out on the streets thinking it’s a scary time, but if we organize and mobilize we can achieve the change we want to see in our communities and in our world.

    We get a lot of women from all generations, and one older woman grabbed me by the arm and said, ‘Thank you for telling my mother’s story.’ I was like, ‘Oh, was your mother a suffragist?’ And she said, ‘No, but this is her story.’ That really resonated with me because it’s what I hoped the show could do, that anyone could see themselves in it. She felt that her mother was being honored. That was the greatest response I could hope for.”

    Justin Peck, Outstanding Choreography, Illinoise

    “As a young person, the shows that really inspired me were dance driven musicals, like A Chorus Line, Contact, Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, and West Side Story. They really planted the seed in me to pursue theatre and dance. It feels full circle to get to create a show of my own that harnesses dance as a primary storytelling language. I hope it can inspire others to potentially do the same. It’s a very unique thing. The other thing I’m really proud of is it gives this cast the platform to express themselves in the ways they’re strongest. They don’t always get that chance. It’s not the kind of show that comes around so often.

    Dance in theatre is sometimes brushed to the side, it’s used for transitions, or it’s just decoration on top of what’s already there. My goal was to have dance act as a backbone for the entire structure of this musical. I’m so happy that it translates and that audiences can accept it, understand it, and also be moved by it.”

    Sarah Hyland and Corbin Bleu, presenters

    CB: One of the first things I said to [Sarah about Little Shop of Horrors, in which she is currently starring] was that this group truly is so welcoming and it’s a great family, you’re in great hands.

    SH: Everyone else who has done the show has said the exact same thing. Skylar Astin, Darren Criss

    CB: You said, “I feel like I’m joining a cult.”

    SH: Where’s the punch bowl? Let me join.

    SH: If I could take on any current role, it would be in Stereophonic or Appropriate.

    CB: For me it would be in Cabaret. I did Sally Bowles at Broadway Backwards. Maybe next time!

    SH: I love that New York theatre hasn’t changed at all since I was last performing here as a kid. I still feel like a teenager, just a little bit more tired in the morning. I love that the community is still so present, supportive, excited, and just rallying behind each other, more so than it was seventeen years ago. I feel so lucky that I get to be a part of it again, even though in my heart I never left.

    Kecia Lewis, Outstanding Featured Performance in a Musical, Hell’s Kitchen

    “The thing that I wanted to do the most as a child when I decided I wanted to be a performer is touch people’s hearts. I wanted to help people to feel, for people to discover things about themselves that maybe they didn’t know. It means the world to me that it’s happening now.

    I was a fan of Alicia Keys’ more popular tunes before Hell’s Kitchen, but I didn’t know the lesser known ones, including the ones I sing in the show; I loved everything I heard. I think she’s a brilliant lyricist and performer and I always appreciated what she had to say and the way that she said it. To now be able to be a part of a show that’s so universal for people all over the world for all races and ages is really special.

    I’ve learned how important it is to have a spiritual connection to be able to do this work. I don’t think that one can touch a heart without being able to touch spirit in some way. I believe that being in touch with something other than myself, a higher power, has made this journey really special.”

    Kelli O’Hara and Brian D’Arcy James, Outstanding Lead Performances in a Musical, Days of Wine and Roses

    KO: I don’t know another show or musical where there’s two lead characters that play off each other that are as richly and equally written. This is an absolute two-hander in the best form. To then be paired with somebody who makes me want to do better and be up to his level all the time… It will never be just this way again. I’m so grateful for it.

    BDJ: Adam Guettel’s score is a world unto itself. His artistry, imagination, and ability to create character, story, and song, are all the delivery system of a powerful story like this. I’m really grateful to have had that experience to try to reach the tops of those cathedrals that he built. There’s nothing like doing it with Kelli, who is the best that there is. We’ve had so much time to work on these characters and on this show, and hoped to give it the best life; here we are in this moment of celebration together. It’s an extraordinary thing.

    KO: [When we work together again] we’re doing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? We don’t know when, where, or how, but we’re doing it! It could be in my living room.

    BDJ: Days of Wine and Roses was the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to sing. My advice to young performers is you have to take care of yourself and give yourself ample space to not get in the way of your voice. Don’t do drugs, kids!

    KO: To have someone write something very specifically for me makes it an easier job to just be able to open my mouth and mean it and not worry about road mapping and things like that. I would advise singers to take care of themselves. I will always be grateful for having something that is fit to the way I sing. This show has a dramatic earthiness to it. I don’t always want to sing the ingénue thing; my character had a lot of different qualities to her sound, and Adam gave me all of those.

    BDJ: Breathe, relax, and use the breath. You can speak for hours on what the breath means. If you have a chance to be in a show with Kelli O’Hara, just watch what she does, and when you have a problem you say, “Hey Kelli? What do you do when XYZ?” She’ll tell you and you do it! She helped me considerably.

    KO: My teacher used to say to speak on pitch. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your experiences have been, singing is a form of communication. If you mean what you say, your voice and technique will come to meet you. Singing is just communicating honestly and truthfully.

    68th Drama Desk Awards Photos! Click to See)
    Stereophonic cast 2Will Brill 2Will Keen Shoshana Bean 2 Sarah Paulson, Jessica Lange, Celia Keenan-BolgerSarah Paulson Sarah Hyland Nathan Lane & Matthew BroderickNikki M. JamesPaige Davis & Patrick PageRachel BloomMarin IrelandMichael StuhlbargMiriam SilvermanMontego GloverKelli O'HaraLeslie Rodriguez KritzerMaleah Joi Moon, Brian D'Arcy James, Kelli O'Hara