'The Band's Visit,' 'Oslo' Take Top Off-Broadway Season Honors

Ahron R. Foster
Tony Shalhoub and cast in 'The Band's Visit'

Outstanding revival at the 32nd Annual Lucille Lortel Awards went to the site-specific staging of 'Sweeney Todd' in a traditional pie shop, while acting honorees included Jennifer Ehle and Ben Platt.

In an edition that showed significant overlap with the upcoming Tony Awards, underlining the importance of New York's smaller stages as a launching pad for the big time, a handful of shows that have since transferred to Broadway or are setting plans to do so next season collected prizes at the 32nd Annual Lucille Lortel Awards, honoring the best of the off-Broadway year.

The night's biggest winner, with four awards, was J.T. Rogers' political thriller Oslo, about the nine months of secret back-channel negotiations that led to the short-lived 1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. The Lincoln Center Theater production won for outstanding play, director Bartlett Sher, lead actress Jennifer Ehle and featured actor Michael Aronov. Since its premiere early last summer in LCT's off-Broadway space, the drama has moved upstairs and reopened on the company's Broadway main stage, picking up seven Tony nominations, including in the four categories for which it won Lortel Awards.

The outstanding musical prize went to Atlantic Theater Company's The Band's Visit, and while no announcement has yet been made, it's an open secret that the acclaimed show is angling for a Broadway move next season. Based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, the chamber musical chronicles the delicate interactions among strangers when the members of an Egyptian Police Band, invited to perform at the opening of an Arab cultural center, arrive at the wrong destination and are forced to spend a night in a tiny Israeli desert town. Featuring a score by David Yazbek and book by Itamar Moses, the show also won lead actress in a musical for Katrina Lenk, who starred opposite Tony Shalhoub.

Another production that has since transferred to Broadway, where it picked up nine Tony nominations and is shaping up to be one of the season's top hits, is Dear Evan Hansen, about a socially awkward teen who gets caught up in an inadvertent lie that explodes into a volatile social-media phenomenon. The New York premiere at Second Stage Theatre took home Lortels for lead actor Ben Platt and featured actress Rachel Bay Jones, both of whom are among the Tony nominees.

Another Second Stage presentation took the prize for outstanding solo show: Notes From the Field, veteran docu-theater writer-performer Anna Deveare Smith's dramatized investigation of America's school-to-prison pipeline; while a London import, the site-specific revival of the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, staged in a mock-traditional British pie shop, won for outstanding revival.

Other Lortel winners included Scandal regular Joe Morton for lead actor in a play in Turn Me Loose; Randy Graff, featured actress in a play for Richard Greenberg's The Babylon Line; and featured actor in a musical Joel Perez for Sweet Charity, another production believed to be mulling a move to Broadway next season.

Outstanding choreography went not to a a musical but a play, with David Dorfman winning for his mix of stylized and traditional movement on the Jewish history play Indecent, which has since moved from the Vineyard Theatre to Broadway and is a best play Tony contender. The Playwrights Horizons production of Adam Bock's offbeat mortality drama, A Life, won two awards: for Laura Jellinek's scenic design and Mikhail Fiksel's sound. Susan Hilferty won for costume design on Love, Love, Love; Jared Mezzocchi won for projection design on Vietgone; and lighting design went to Mark Barton for the Signature Plays, a mini season that included Edward Albee's The Sandbox, Maria Irene Fornes' Drowning and Adrienne Kennedy's Funnyhouse of a Negro.

The Off-Broadway League's Lucille Lortel Awards were presented at NYU Skirball Center in a ceremony hosted by Taran Killam, who recently wrapped a stint as King George in the Broadway production of Hamilton. Along with a hefty roster of current Tony nominees giving face time as the voting period gets underway, Lortel presenters included Bobby Cannavale, Keegan-Michael Key, Judith Light, Debi Mazar, Matthew Perry, George Takei, Aaron Tveit and Finn Wittrock.