Tony nominees Steven Skybell as Herr Schultz and Bebe Neuwirth as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret. (Photo/Marc Brenner via Foward)
Tony nominees Steven Skybell as Herr Schultz and Bebe Neuwirth as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret. (Photo/Marc Brenner via Foward)

In the 2024 Tony nominees, a reminder Jews that don’t always need to work Jewish

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In terms of Jewish content, few Broadway seasons top last year’s crop of shows. So Jewish were the 2023 Tonys that Tom Stoppard, that most reticent of Yids, had a Jewish show, while a revival of “Parade,” about the lynching of Leo Frank, bagged awards for Best Revival.

But as Passover draws to a close and concern for antisemitism rises to a high not seen in decades, the 2024 Tonys are proof that Jews — enough to fill a theater for a New York Times Magazine feature — are not always quite so provincial in our concerns.

Take one David Adjmi, whose Broadway debut “Stereophonic” leads the straight play pack with 13 nominations, including best new play, best director for Daniel Aukin and best featured actor for Eli Gelb.  

When Adjmi and I spoke shortly before previews, he told me that he was eager to defy a theater culture that now prizes identity above all else.

I sort of was very proud of this idea that in the time where everyone’s writing their ‘identities,’ and fixating on their tribal identities, that I just relieved myself of that completely,” said Adjmi, who, while gay and Jewish, opted to write a family drama of a band that resembles Fleetwood Mac.

Adjmi has written about his Jewishness and queerness in the past, and so has Paula Vogel, whose “Mother Play,” up for four awards, couldn’t be further from her “Indecentriff on Yiddish Theater.

Amy Herzog also channeled motherhood in “Mary Jane” (up for best new play and best director for Anne Kaufman), featuring a Hasidic woman as a secondary character. She left Yiddishkeit aside for her adaptation of “An Enemy of the People” (directed by coreligionist Sam Gold, nominated for best revival).

In the musical arena, the terrifying resuscitation of “Cabaretis nominated for eight Tonys, including for Steven Skybell (playing Jewish fruit seller Herr Schultz) and Bebe Neuwirth (playing against type as the non-Jewish Fraulein Schneider). As ever that show confronts the specter of antisemitism. So does Joshua Harmon’s “Prayer for the French Republic,” about a Parisian family’s debate over whether to make aliyah.

“Prayer” is nominated for new play, lead actress for Betsy Aidem and for Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting. But while its concerns were prescient, it’s not the only game in town for commentary in an election year.

Shaina Taub’s “Suffs,” about women who fought for the franchise, is nominated for best musical and direction of a musical for Leigh Silverman. Its cast of real-life characters are about as Jewish as a Daughters of the American Revolution convention, though the ensemble is notably diverse.

“The Outsiders,” that classic of high school greasers who hang out in a church, is up for 10 awards, including for score, orchestration and book for Justin Levine. Danya Taymour directed.

While musical “Lempicka,” a story of a Jewish noblewoman who helped launch the art deco aesthetic, deals with Nazism, it only got nods for performances for Eden Espinoza in the title role and Amber Iman as her lover. 

Lila Neugebauer, who directed the very Jewish “The Allyand the supremely goyishe “Uncle Vanya” this year, is nominated for her revival of Branden Jacob Jenkins’ “Appropriate.” Meanwhile, Adam Guettel, a scion of the Rodgers musical theater family, is nominated for his score for “Days of Wine and Roses.”

The Jews won’t be hemmed in. Liev Schreiber, last seen as Henry Kissinger, is nominated for playing a Catholic priest in the “Doubt” revival, while Shoshana Bean’s Tony-nominated turn in “Hell’s Kitchen” couldn’t be further from her run as Fanny Brice. Closer to heritage is Michael Stuhlbarg, nominated for playing Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky in “Patriots.”

“Hell’s Kitchen” is the most-nominated new musical, with nods for director Michael Greif and Tom Kitt and Adam Blackstone, who orchestrated Alicia Keys’ music. Rick Elice, a Jewish scribe, ran away to join the circus writing the book for “Water for Elephants.”

Jonathan Tunick, Sondheim’s orchestrator of old, is nominated for his new work on “Merrily We Roll Along,” up for seven awards including best revival, director for Maria Friedman and featured actor for Daniel Radcliffe, playing the Jewish-coded Charley Kringas.

Jews, Jesse Green noted in his Times Magazine piece, have a claim to creating the American theater as we now know it. But if the 2024 nominees are any indication, they may not view themselves quite so narrowly. Some of their best work was, and continues to be, unaffiliated.

This article was originally published on the Forward.

PJ Grisar
PJ Grisar

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].