NEW YORK—It was mostly smiles, with more than a few tears of joy at the 72nd Annual Theatre World Awards, held at Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theatre on May 23, 2016. The ceremonies, which were followed by an after-party at the Copacabana nightclub, honored 12 actors and actresses for their Broadway or Off-Broadway debuts.
Founded in 1944, the Theatre World Awards selects six woman and six men each year to be so honored.
A traditionally low-key affair, at least when compared to the Tony Awards, the Theatre World Awards have long had a special place in the theatrical community’s heart. It’s an award that can only be bestowed on an individual once in their career, the first time they tread the boards on the New York stage.
Receiving such an award serves as both recognition of that performer’s work and a way of officially welcoming the individual into the theater family.
Members of the Theatre World Awards class of 2016 included Danielle Brooks (“The Color Purple”), Carmen Cusack (“Bright Star”), Khris Davis (“The Royale”), Daniel Durant (“Spring Awakening”), Cynthia Erivo (“The Color Purple”), John Krasinski (“Dry Powder”), Sarah Charles Lewis (“Tuck Everlasting”), Austin P. McKenzie, (“Spring Awakening”), Lupita Nyong’o (“Eclipsed”), Mark Strong (“A View From The Bridge”), Ana Villafañe (“On Your Feet”), and Ben Whishaw (“The Crucible”).
Of the inductees, nine made their New York stage debuts in Broadway shows; two appeared in Off-Broadway productions (“Dry Powder”, “The Royale”); and one was in a show that originated Off-Broadway, before transferring to The Great White Way (“Eclipsed”).
The award ceremony was hosted by well-known theater journalist Peter Filichia.
In keeping with tradition, all of this year’s honorees were presented their awards by previous Theatre World Award winners, usually by people who had a connection to the recipients. “On Your Feet” director Jerry Mitchell, in presenting the Award to the show’s star Ana Villafañe, recalled how he felt when seeing Ana audition, knowing she was the person who would be playing the lead in the show.
Similarly, Ben Whishaw and Khris Davis were honored by their respective co-stars, each of whom described their enjoyment in being able to appear with them on stage eight times a week.
The audience also had a chance to hear numerous theatrical anecdotes during the presentations. A particularly amusing tale dealt with the late actor Nicol Williamson, who, while he was starring as Hamlet on Broadway, refused to perform scenes from the play at the White House for President Richard Nixon—unless an invited theater critic whom he despised would be barred from the event. He was.
Featured as part of the evening were various musical interludes, including past Theatre World Award winner Anita Gillette performing a song from the 1962 Irving Berlin musical, “Mr. President.”
In addition to the 12 aforementioned honorees, two additional awards were handed out. Nicholas Barasch received the Dorothy Loudon Award for Excellence in Theatre for his performance in the current revival of the Broadway musical “She Loves Me.”
Receiving the fourth Annual John Willis Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre was two time-Tony Award-winning actress Bernadette Peters. Ms. Peters received two standing ovations, the only ones of the night, when accepting her award.
Previous recipients of the John Willis Award, named for the Founder of the Theatre World Awards, were Alan Alda, Christopher Plummer, and Chita Rivera.
Additional information about the Theatre World Awards can be found at TheatreWorldAwards.org