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Backstory

Warm welcome

By: - Columnist
/ 12:20 AM June 07, 2018

Ben Edelman

NEW YORK—On this unseasonably cool Monday in June, Circle in the Square played host to an event that I’ve been so looking forward to in this award season: the 74th Theatre World Awards.

In 1944, Daniel Blum, Norman McDonald and John Willis came up with the idea of recognizing 12 “Promising Personalities” who lit up the Broadway stage. At the time, the award was presented in Mr. Blum’s living room.

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In those early years, the legendary likes of stage actors like John Raitt, Marlon Brando and Burt Lancaster received the award. Later on, as off-Broadway became the New York theater force it continues to be, actors who performed off-Broadway became eligible to receive an award. It was not until 1969 that the name “Theatre World Awards” was officially used.

Over the course of its history, many more “promising” personalities received plaques, bronze statues or glass trophies to commemorate their Broadway and off-Broadway debuts, among them Carol Channing, Richard Burton, Audrey Hepburn, Harry Belafonte, Julie Andrews, James Earl Jones, Robert Redford, Liza Minnelli, Marisa Tomei, Colm Wilkinson, Audra McDonald, Vanessa Williams, Harry Connick Jr., Viola Davis, Anna Kendrick, Lupita Nyong’o, Cynthia Erivo, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Whoopi Goldberg, Meryl Streep, Victor Garber, Alec Baldwin and Al Pacino.

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Oh yeah, I was awarded one as well in 1991, presented by 1977 recipient Jonathan Pryce.

The 2018 class is composed of Ethan Slater (“SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical”), Noma Dumezweni and Anthony Boyle (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”), James McArdle and Denise Gough (“Angels in America”), Harry Hadden-Paton (“My Fair Lady”), Hailey Kilgore (“Once on This Island”), Jamie Brewer (“Amy and the Orphans”), Johnny Flynn (“Hangmen”), Charlie Stemp (“Hello, Dolly”) and Katy Sullivan (“Cost of Living”).

Ben Edelman received the Dorothy Loudon Award for Excellence in the Theater, and Victor Garber garnered the John Willis Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater.

In keeping with the unique environment of “Once on This Island,” everyone was asked to dress up in festive island wear, so we saw what that meant to people: colorful shirts, airy skirts and dresses, and going barefoot onstage. As each person entered, they also received a lei.

Kicking things off was a performance by “Once on This Island’s” Tonton Julian, Phillip Boykin, himself a Theatre World Award recipient in 2012 for playing Crown, Bess’ ex-lover in “Porgy and Bess.”

Immediately following that, host Peter Filichia got things rolling, and introduced the presentation of awards. The one memory seared in my mind was when the legendary Glenda Jackson came onstage to present the Dorothy Loudon Award to Edelman.

She told the audience a story of when she was asked by a younger artist for a piece of advice. To the youth, she said, “If there’s something else you could conceivably be doing, please do that, for to be an actor is one of the most difficult things you can do. But if for you it’s a matter of life and death, then by all means do it.”

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The commemoration of this year’s outstanding Broadway and Off-Broadway debuts is not just a celebration of first steps or acknowledgement of the excellence achieved by this bright dozen as they trod the boards telling their stories night after night.

The Theatre World Award serves as a beacon of light, that ray of encouragement that pushes these artists to keep going, as if to say, “You can do it.”

Truly, you have all done it beyond anyone’s expectations. I can’t wait to see what the next steps will be. Bravo to all of you!

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