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The 2016 Tony Awards had a youthful glow, thanks to the crew of acting-category winners from Hamilton and The Color Purple. But this year is going to be all about the acquired authority of age and experience.
A remarkable five actors in their 70s received Tony nominations Tuesday morning, with another eight in their 60s and six in their 50s. That accounts for just under half of the 40 acting nominations across eight play and musical categories. Who said acting was a young person’s game?
While screen actors, and women in particular, have often complained about the paucity of roles once they hit middle-age — especially if you’re not Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren — stage work continues to yield great parts for actors well into their senior years. Roles like the title character in King Lear, Mama Rose in Gypsy, Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman or Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night have been crowning achievements for countless veteran actors.
The age equality demonstrated by the 2017 Tony nominations stretches across both revivals and new works, suggesting that theater creatives are continuing to write strong roles for older performers.
Sprightly septuagenarians vying for acting honors this year include Bette Midler, 71, the frontrunner to take lead actress in a musical for Hello, Dolly! Danny DeVito, 72, appears to be having the time of his life, making his Broadway debut in Arthur Miller’s The Price, which earned him a featured actor nom. Sally Field, 70, scored the sole nomination for the latest revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie with her turn as the embattled Amanda Wingfield. Mary Beth Peil, 76, late of The Good Wife and elegance personified as the Dowager Empress in Anastasia, is a featured actress contender for that new musical. And veteran Canadian actor Denis Arndt, 78, was remembered with a lead acting nomination for Heisenberg, a play that closed in December.
Actors in their 60s are even more robustly represented, among them Kevin Kline, 69, for Present Laughter; Patti LuPone, 68, and Christine Ebersole, 64, in War Paint; Richard Thomas, 65, for The Little Foxes; Chris Cooper, 65, Laurie Metcalf, 61, and Jayne Houdyshell, 63, for A Doll’s House, Part 2; and Nathan Lane, 61, for The Front Page.
A bunch of relative whippersnappers in their 50s also made the Tony nominations cut, including David Hyde Pierce for Hello, Dolly!; Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon for The Little Foxes; John Douglas Thompson for Jitney; Jefferson Mays for Oslo; and Johanna Day for Sweat.
In an entertainment culture that often seems obsessed with youth, Broadway this season is making a strong statement that maturity counts. And just in case any of the nominees are feeling their age on Tony night, they can look for inspiration to James Earl Jones, 86, this year’s Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre honoree, as a beloved elder statesman of the community who has remained active on the stage into his eighth decade.
Clearly, retirement is overrated.
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