By Randy Gener

NEW YORK CITY |  It’s good to be Bette Midler.  Let’s say you were a Hollywood comic diva who was once upon a time down and out in Beverly Hills and then you suddenly found yourself in HELLO, DOLLY!, wouldn’t you get a theater award for Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater?

Okay. Okay. That lede might have been a stretch.  Nevertheless, though we haven’t seen Midler onstage for quite some time — and even though she herself was deemed “ineligible for nomination” for her performance in HELLO, DOLLY! this year, well, the Drama League tossed her an award anyway.

The real achievements (in traditional theater terms) went to OSLO and JITNEY.  The Drama League Awards, which were handed out this past May 18, honored JT Rogers‘ OSLO as an outstanding production of a play (which is obviously correct) and August Wilson‘s JITNEY as outstanding revival of a play (which is correct but obviously driven by nostalgia).

DEAR EVAN HANSEN on Broadway

DEAR EVAN HANSEN, the blubbering woe-is-meBroadway musical, got outstanding production of a musical.  And even though Midler was not eligible this year, HELLO, DOLLY went on ahead to nab outstanding revival of a play.

Take a note of how the categories are named. Instead of best play, the Drama League chose outstanding production, a difference that elides having to single out the performance of the text rather than the virtues of the text itself.  The same shape fits the choices named above.

Why is this important? One suspects that this subtle nomenclature has to do with the sponsor Drama League’s makeup as a membership organization that uses the awards-giving platform as a form of audience development.

OSLO stars Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays | Photo by T. Charles Erickson

In any case, the Drama League gets to host a starry party for the starstruck held at the Marriott Marquis Times Square.  The luncheon was hosted by Broadway husband-and-wife royalty — six-time Tony® Award winner Audra McDonald and Tony® Award nominee Will Swenson.

In addition to the competitive categories, Bill Berloni was honored with the Unique Contribution to the Theater Award and Michael Greif was honored with the Founders Award for Excellence in Directing.

During the ceremony, Drama League Program Director Sherri Eden Barber introduced the 2017 Directing Fellows of The Drama League Directors Project: Michael Alvarez, Laura Brandel, Jillian Carucci, Tom Costello, Matt Dickson, Justin Emeka, Bonnie Gabel, Flordelino Lagundino, Rebecca Martinez, Kholoud Sawaf, and Gabriel Vega Weissman.

First awarded in 1922 and formalized in 1935, The Drama League Awards are the oldest theatrical honors in America.

OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION OF A MUSICAL
Dear Evan Hansen
Music Box Theatre
Book by Steven Levenson
Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION OF A PLAY
Oslo
Lincoln Center Theater
Written by J.T. Rogers
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Produced by Lincoln Center Theater

OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
Hello Dolly!
Shubert Theatre
Book by Michael Stewart
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Directed by Jerry Zaks

Hello, Dolly! Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes
Hello, Dolly!
Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A PLAY
Jitney
Manhattan Theatre Club
Written by August Wilson
Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Produced by Manhattan Theatre Club (Lynne Meadow, Artistic Director; Barry Grove, Executive Producer);

DISTINGUISHED PERFORMANCE AWARD
Ben Platt
Dear Evan Hansen

DISTINGUISHED ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSICAL THEATRE
Bette Midler

UNIQUE CONTRIBUTION TO THE THEATRE
Bill Berloni

Michael Greif
Michael Greif

FOUNDERS AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN DIRECTING
Michael Greif