Tracy Letts, Nick Offerman, Amanda Peet Praise Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Awards

Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman, Amanda Peet, Tracy Letts
Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman, Amanda Peet, Tracy Letts
 AP Images

Off-Broadway might mean smaller theaters and smaller paychecks, but it also means bigger risks and bigger dreams -- or so say the stars on the red carpet at Sunday night’s Lucille Lortel Awards, which honor the best in Off-Broadway theater.

"It’s like the independent film of New York theater -- you don’t have as many corporate interests giving you notes and so I think it’s the artistic freedom," Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman told The Hollywood Reporter. Offerman is currently getting his first taste of the Off-Broadway community, making his New York stage debut in Sharr White’s Annapurna alongside his wife, Megan Mullally.

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"I feel like maybe you have a little more leeway to try new things and be daring without so many eyes on you," said Mullally, who co-hosted the evening with Offerman, of working Off-Broadway. “We did this play last year in Los Angeles, and we just loved doing it and we had thought we would like to do it again someday, but we didn’t know where or when. Then we were approached very fortuitously by Dede Harris and her producing partner David Carpenter, and they wanted it to bring it to New York, so we were really thrilled."

Offerman added of reuniting with director Bart DeLorenzo, who also directed them in Charles L. Mee’s Berlin Circle in Los Angeles, "For Bart and I, this is both of our New York debut, and so we feel like we’re out at the prom for the first time."

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Many celebrities joined the "prom" for the evening, dominated by two big winners: David Byrne’s immersive disco musical Here Lies Love, about the life of Imelda Marcos, and Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s musical Fun Home, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. Three-time Tony nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger, who is a contender this year for The Glass Menagerie, gushed about seeing both shows three times this year.

"The musical season this year Off-Broadway was one for the ages," she said. "I have the recording of Fun Home that I’m listening to on my iPhone on a normal basis like I’m in high school."

American Horror Story star Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater of HBO's The Newsroom also named Fun Home and Here Lies Love as their favorite shows this season.

"It was such a party," Linklater said of the latter. "Also, it was super sexy and super sweaty and that’s what I want from my Off-Broadway.” The pair walked the red carpet together, as they will co-star this summer in Much Ado About Nothing as part of the Shakespeare in the Park season. “It’s my favorite thing in the world to do,” Rabe says of performing at Central Park's Delacorte Theater. "Nobody’s getting rich, and everybody’s doing it because they want to be there and they love it. It’s wonderful to be around that."

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Theatre vet Tracy Letts agreed. "It’s where all of the innovative, interesting, exciting, impactful work is taking place in the city," he told THR. "When you’re on Broadway, the marketplace can get overwhelming and all of the compromise that has to take place is really on display on Broadway. I like that Off-Broadway allows for a lot more aggressive creativity.

While Uzo Aduba is now known for playing "Crazy Eyes" in Orange Is the New Black, her performance this season in Venice nabbed her a Lortel nomination. "That downtown community has never really been lost in any of the theaters there," she said. "I just feel so happy to be a part of it."

Though she’s never appeared Off-Broadway, Carly Rae Jepsen presented an award with her Cinderella co-star Joe Carroll. (Cinderella producer Robyn Goodman received the evening’s lifetime achievement award.) Though Jepson’s in the middle of cutting her next record, she hopes to return to the stage after her Cinderella run. “It’s kind of amazing, after being here for four and a half months, how many people I know -- it’s a really supportive community, it’s not competitive," she said. "I wasn’t expecting that. I love it ... I do hope to one day make my way back because I think it’s in my blood now."

Amanda Peet also wants to come back to the theater scene -- but as a playwright. She made her playwriting debut at Manhattan Theatre Club this season with The Commons of Pensecola, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Blythe Danner. "I just feel grateful that it happened anywhere, to be honest -- it’s so hard these days to get anything done and I feel like I won the lottery,” she told THR, adding that she’s currently working on her next play. "I’m trying. It’s slow-going, but I’m trying. I’ve been on page 15 for about a year. I probably expect too much."

Billy Magnussen -- who blasted into the Broadway spotlight last year in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and is featured in Disney's upcoming Into the Woods film -- is looking forward to hitting the Off-Broadway stage in Sex With Strangers at Second Stage Theatre this summer opposite Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn.

“I like working anywhere," Magnussen says. "I think there’s like a battle between Broadway and Off-Broadway, but isn’t it just a seat number count for tax purposes? I just don’t think there’s a difference. Good art is good art. You can see amazing theater in the back of a bar."

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