The Tribe at the Tonys

By Nate Bloom

An extraordinary number of Jewish nominees and works with a strong Jewish connection will be competing for Tony Awards when the 71st annual recognition of  excellence in Broadway theater airs live on CBS (KMOV-TV Channel 4) at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 11. 

Listed below are confirmed Jewish nominees in all but the technical categories.

 Please note: The best-play Tony goes to the playwright and the producers. The best-musical Tony goes to the producers. The number of nominated Jewish producers is so large that, with one exception, I simply can’t cover them in this article. As in my regular column, Jewish folks mentioned are in capital letters. 

Actors

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Lead actor in a musical: BEN PLATT, 23, “Dear Evan Hansen.” Platt, who became well known to movie audiences as Benji Applebaum in the “Pitch Perfect” films, is a favorite to win the Tony.

 The fourth of five children, Platt is the son of MARC PLATT, 60, a leading showbiz producer. The elder Platt is Tony-nominated this year for producing “Indecent,” a nominee for best play. The whole family is musical, and the family has a tradition of adapting show tunes for family events and singing them together, including at Ben’s bar mitzvah.

 By age 11, Ben Platt was in a national touring company of a Broadway show. Recently, he told Seth Meyers, host of NBC’s “Late Night” show, that at Camp Ramah, he sang the part of Sky Masterson from “Guys and Dolls” in Hebrew. He treated Meyers’ audience to a few verses of “Luck Be a Lady” in Hebrew.

  Lead actress in a musical: BETTE MIDLER, 71, “Hello, Dolly!” Critics have said that Midler was practically born to star in the title role, and this revival is a smash. 

“Dolly” represents a return to Broadway for Midler after an absence of almost 50 years. Born and raised in Hawaii, she moved to New York in 1965 and quickly landed a big off-Broadway role.  Then, from 1966-1969, she played Tzeitel, the oldest daughter, in the original run of “Fiddler on the Roof.”  She told CBS “Sunday Morning” that she didn’t return to Broadway sooner because musical shows changed and had became “musical theater.” Her love was musical comedy, and “Hello, Dolly” is certainly that. 

Supporting actor, musical: BRANDON URANOWITZ, 30, “Falsettos.” He plays Mendel, a Jewish psychiatrist in this revival of a musical originally staged in 1992. The show is about a Jewish family and ends with a bar mitzvah near the deathbed of the bar mitzvah boy’s father. Uranowitz says he recalls practicing for his bar mitzvah by singing “Miracle of Judaism,” a “Falsettos” number.

Directors 

Best director, play: SAM GOLD, 39, “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” and REBECCA TAICHMAN, 47, “Indecent.” 

Best director, musical: JERRY ZAKS, 70, “Hello Dolly,” and RACHEL CHAVKIN, 37, “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812”; and MICHAEL GREIF, 57, “Dear Evan Hansen.”

 Gold is the resident director of the Roundabout Theatre  Company, one of Manhattan’s leading nonprofit theater companies. He’s married to AMY HERZOG, 41, a Pulitzer-nominated playwright (“4000 Miles,” recently performed by the New Jewish Theatre). Zaks, the son of Holocaust survivors, has been a leading Broadway musical director for more than 20 years. He has two hits on Broadway: “Hello, Dolly!” and a musical version of the hit 1993 movie “A Bronx Tale.”

Best Productions

The best play and best musical Tonys, as noted above, are given to the show’s producers. Here are the Jews, many nominees in their own right, associated with those “best” shows.

 Best Revival, Play: “The Little Foxes,” by LILLIAN HELLMAN (1905-84); Best Revival, Musical: “Falsettos,” music and lyrics by WILLIAM FINN, now 65, and book by JAMES LAPINE, now 68; “Hello Dolly!” music and lyrics by JERRY HERMAN, now 85. 

Best (new) play: “Indecent,” by PAULA VOGEL, 65. “Indecent” is about the controversy surrounding the 1907 Yiddish play “God of Vengeance” by SHOLEM ASCH (1880-1957). Asch’s play is about a Jewish pimp who seeks respectability by donating a Torah scroll and marrying off his daughter to a yeshiva student. It was heavily criticized by many Jews when it first played New York, and the producers were convicted of obscenity (the verdict was later overturned).

 Best musical: “Dear Evan Hansen,” music and lyrics by BENJ PASEK and Justin Paul, both 32.  Pasek and Paul wrote the lyrics and won the Oscar for best song earlier this year for “City of Stars” from “La La Land,” along with composer JUSTIN HURWITZ, 32. 

The duo, who met in college, had prior hits, including a Broadway musical version of “A Christmas Story.”  

“Evan Hansen” is the first show they composed not based on another source, and they hit a home run. 

The riveting story of “Evan Hansen” was written by STEVEN LEVENSON, 31, and he’s nominated for best book (script) for a musical. 

Paskek and Paul are also nominated for best original score.

 Also nominated for best (new) musical is “Groundhog Day.” It’s a song-filled version of the hit 1993 movie written by DANNY RUBIN, now 60, and the late HAROLD RAMIS. Rubin is nominated for best book for a musical. 

 Finally, in this category, is the unlikely hit “Come From Away” by married couple IRENE SANKOFF and DAVID HEIN, both 40, who are originally from Canada. Previously, they were best known for the cult hit musical “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding,” based on Wein’s mother’s real-life coming out as an older adult. 

 “Come From Away” takes place in Newfoundland, Canada, right after the 9/11 attacks. Hundreds of planes were forced to land in Newfoundland, and the local people rushed to aid stranded passengers. The musical’s subtext – the rightness of helping strangers in need – gives the show a contemporary edge.

 Worthy of note: “Oslo,” a best-play nominee, is about the true-life efforts of two Norwegian diplomats to bring together Israeli and PLO representatives for secret peace talks in 1993. There are important Israeli characters.

 Danny Devito and Patti LuPone are nominated for acting Tonys for playing Jewish characters in, respectively, “The Price” by the late ARTHUR MILLER, and “War Paint.”  Lupone plays cosmetics mogul HELENA RUBENSTEIN (1872-1965).

 Missouri connections: Chris Cooper (“A Doll’s House 2”), a Kansas City native, vies for best actor (play) honors with Kevin Kline, who grew up in Clayton. Kline’s father was Jewish, but he was raised in his mother’s Catholic faith. His two sons, however, may identify as Jewish. Years ago, Kline said his sons were being exposed to both Judaism and Christianity. His wife, PHOEBE CATES, 54, had three Jewish grandparents (all but her maternal grandpa). 

Contact columnist Nate Bloom at [email protected]