'Piano Lesson,' 'The Whale' Dominate Lortel Awards

The Piano Lesson

Chuck Cooper, James A. Williams, Jason Dirden and Brandon J. Dirden starred in August Wilson's 1930s chapter of his 20th Century Cycle. There may have been no more finely tuned ensemble on a New York stage this year than these figures struggling in different ways to participate physically and psychologically in the Great Migration of black America.

The musical "Dogfight" and solo show "All the Rage" also took top prizes at the leading honors for Off Broadway theater, in a ceremony hosted by Aasif Mandvi and Maura Tierney.

NEW YORK -- Signature Theatre's lovingly staged revival of August Wilson's The Piano Lesson was the big winner Sunday night at the 2013 Lucille Lortel Awards, the top honors for Off Broadway theater.

Written in 1990, The Piano Lesson is the 1930s-set chapter of Wilson's 10-play 20th Century Cycle about African American experience. It centers on a family conflict among siblings attempting to move forward while wrestling with the legacy of the past. The drama won four awards, for outstanding revival, for director Ruben Santiago-Hudson, lead actress Roslyn Ruff and featured actor Chuck Cooper.

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Outstanding play went to the Playwrights Horizons production of Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale, about a morbidly obese gay man's attempt to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter. The sensitively observed drama also was honored for lead actor Shuler Hensley's performance, and for Jessica Pabst's costume designs.

The Second Stage Theatre world premiere production of Dogfight was named outstanding musical. Based on the 1991 Nancy Savoca film with River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, the Vietnam-era show traces the evolving relationship between a cocky young Marine and a waitress he romances, initially as part of a cruel game. The intimate musical was adapted by Peter Duchan, with an original score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. That up-and-coming composing team also landed a Tony nomination last week for the score of their Broadway debut, A Christmas Story, The Musical. Dogfight picked up a second Lortel award for Christopher Gattelli's choreography.

Among other awards, writer-performer Martin Moran won outstanding solo show for All the Rage; and newcomer Annie Funke was named outstanding featured actress for If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, in which she appeared opposite fellow nominee Jake Gyllenhaal.

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The Lortel Awards were presented at NYU Skirball Center. The ceremony was hosted by Aasif Mandvi, who starred in the Off Broadway premiere of this year's Pulitzer Prize winner Disgraced; and Maura Tierney, currently appearing on Broadway opposite Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy.

A full list of nominations and winners can be found at: http://www.lortelaward.com/2013nominees.htm.