SpongeBob SquarePants and My Fair Lady were standouts at the 63rd Drama Desk Awards, winning Outstanding Musical and Outstanding Revival of a Musical, respectively. Admissions and Angels in America won in the same categories for plays.
The Drama Desk Awards annually celebrate the best in New York theatre. Nominators considered shows that opened on Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway during the 2017-2018 season.
Hosted by Michael Urie, the evening boasted rousing numbers from artists such as Carousel’s Lindsay Mendez and Alexander Gemignani, as well as KPOP’s Ashley Park.
TheImproper caught up with the nominees on the red carpet to discuss their season, and chatted with the winners backstage as they enjoyed their new trophies. Check out what they had to say below. (All photos, except where noted by Iris Wiener)
Tina Fey (Winner, Outstanding Book of a Musical, Mean Girls)On how Mean Girls is having an impact on the lives of teenagers:
“It has been lovely to see how much young people have responded to the show and to the soundtrack. Just watching people on YouTube be empowered by ‘I’d Rather Be Me’ is great. Rosalind Wiseman, who wrote the original source material, continues to go out and work with high school age kids all the time, trying to get them to be better to each other and prepare them for the world, and we’ve tried to carry that message through. I think our cast are all very committed to that as well. It means a lot. Comedy is one thing, there are always more jokes to be had in the world, but it’s nice to be trying to put something good into an increasingly ugly world.”
Tony Kushner (Winner, Outstanding Revival of a Play, Angels in America)On how his seminal writing speaks to a new generation:
“I know that it’s being read and in some places performed by a lot of young people. That’s been true since the play first came out and it was not something I imagined would happen. I’m 61 years old, so we were not reading things like Angels in America in high school in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Times have changed and clearly the play speaks to people who are younger than the characters, who are all in their early-thirties. That makes me enormously happy. I think that this aspect of it contributed hugely to the ongoing life of the play. I hear from people all the time who say, ‘I read it in high school,’ or ‘I was in it in high school.’ It’s great that LGBT literature is being taught in high schools because that is immensely important.”
Alexander Gemignani (Nominee, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical, Carousel)On a number from the show that epitomizes the entire award season:
“The lame answer is ‘June is Busting Out All Over’ because it is! However, my favorite moment in the show is ‘What’s the Use of Wond’rin.’ I think it’s deliciously complex and Jessie Mueller is a master. I love listening and watching that all the time. It’s a real gift to get to work on the show with such classic material.” Gemignani was raised in Tenafly, NJ and is a graduate of the University of Michigan’s Musical Theater Department. He is the son of Broadway musical director Paul Gemignani and soprano Carolann Page. He is the artistic director of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Music Theater Conference.
Evan Ruggiero (Nominee, Outstanding Actor in a Musical, Bastard Jones)On how he would like to see Bastard Jones evolve for a new production:
“I would love to see Bastard Jones on an actual stage! Whether it be in some developmental musical space or Off-Broadway somewhere, but someplace where it would really allow the artists and other actors who I perform with to showcase themselves and what we did. The show has a very strong connection to the audience, and it has a very strong connection between its cast members. I think there’s a magic with something that we do as actors and with an audience and how we can feed off of them. That’s musical comedy, being able to control the show and have that feedback from the audience.”
Ethan Slater (Winner, Outstanding Actor in a Musical, SpongeBob SquarePants)
“I think the thing that I’ve always loved about the Drama Desk is the way that it celebrates the whole of New York theatre. There’s a seriousness to it which I love. One of the things that I say about playing SpongeBob is that it’s really important that I take the character seriously, even though he’s ridiculous. That’s sometimes how I feel about awards and theatre. You can be doing the most ridiculous thing, but if you take it seriously, you’re all the better for it. Be aware of the fact that if what you’re doing is silly and you’re doing comedy, you had better be able to laugh at yourself. Taking it seriously always makes it better because it makes you more focused. I think the Drama Desks take themselves seriously and people take them seriously. I’m pretty thrilled to be here.”
LaChanze (Nominee, Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Summer)On how Summer not only speaks to women, but celebrates them:
“When we think about Donna Summer we think about a different era. We think about the ’70s or early ’80s. We didn’t have this women’s movement back then. Donna was making moves as a woman that were beyond her time. When we highlight these moments in the show, the audience goes wild. It was unheard of for women to have equal rights or equal pay or equal anything! But she fought for herself in that way, and whenever she had any real successes she had listened to her own voice. Telling that story today and seeing the audience’s reaction today is pretty interesting because it’s not what was happening back then.”
Jelani Alladin (Nominee, Outstanding Actor in a Musical, Frozen)On how the Drama Desk Award is important to him:
The Tony’s are a commercial vehicle. It’s a TV show because it’s televised, and it’s only about the commercial shows on Broadway. The Drama Desk Awards are about actors, artists, and people who are just in New York City doing great work and sharing their heart, their blood and their spirit. To be among these kinds of actors is to be among the cream of the crop. Those are the people we should all be looking toward for the future of commercial theatre, because those are the people who are going to bring their heart and soul to it. The community over at the St. James Theatre is one that I have never experienced in my life. It is one of love and warmth. There is not one person in the cast with whom I can’t look into their eyes and see love and know that I can trust them. That has kept me sane, grounded, and enthusiastic about doing the best that I can with the show every night.”