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Lucille Lortels are off-Broadway's version of Tony Awards

April 30, 2010 | 10:48 am

Lortel_Awards_logo The Lucille Lortel Awards celebrate a silver anniversary Sunday night. These kudos are presented by the Off-Broadway League, a collection of producers who stage shows in smaller venues than those on Broadway. A successful off-Broadway run can lead to a transfer to Broadway and a chance to contend at the Tony Awards.

Last year, the musical "Next to Normal" -- which had premiered at the off-Broadway venue Second Stage in 2008 -- was a last-minute entry into the derby. This tuner about a woman coping with mental illness contended for 11 Tony Awards, winning three: lead actress Alice Ripley, score by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey and orchestrations. Last month it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

This year, among the possible contenders for the Tony Awards is another tuner from Second Stage -- "Everyday Rapture" -- which is nominated for both best musical and lead actress (Sherie Renee Scott) at the Lucille Lortels. Also new to Broadway this season is "Fela," which won three of its five bids at last year's Lortels, including best musical. The full list of nominees can be found on the Lucille Lortel Awards website.

The Lucille Lortel Awards -- named for the renowned actress turned producer -- do what the Drama Desk Awards used to -- celebrate the best of off-Broadway. While the Tony Awards, which date to 1947, salute Broadway, the Drama Desk kudos were begun in 1955 to honor the rest of the New York theater world. And for the first 14 years they did just that with winners coming exclusively from the burgeoning off-Broadway scene. However, beginning with the 15th festivities in 1968, those appearing on Broadway became eligible for consideration and since then these awards have tilted towards those also competing at the Tonys, leaving the off-Broadway performers in the wings.

This year's nominations for the Drama Desk Awards will be announced Monday and may well include many of the Lucille Lortel contenders. However, if the past is any indication, most of them needn't bother showing up at the May 23 ceremony. Indeed, in the last six years only 10 of the 153 Drama Desk Awards bestowed for plays and musicals have gone to off-Broadway productions.

Photo: Lucille Lortel Awards logo. Credit: Lucille Lortel Foundation

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