Czech-born playwright Tom Stoppard wins record fifth Tony for epic look at a Jewish family

Stoppard's latest play Leopoldstadt looks at over half a century in a Vienna ghetto, from 1899 to 1955.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 12.06.2023 13:09:00 (updated on 12.06.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

Czech-born British playwright Tom Stoppard broke his own record by winning a fifth Tony Award for Best Play. Leopoldstadt, which chronicles the life of a Jewish family in Vienna from 1899 to 1955, earned a total of four prizes at the annual ceremony honoring the best productions on Broadway in New York City.

As a child, Stoppard fled from then-Czechoslovakia to Singapore on the eve of World War II. He eventually settled in Britain after the war. All of his grandparents died in the Holocaust, but he did not learn of his Jewish roots until he was middle-aged. It took him 20 years to address his legacy in a play.

“Quite a lot of it is personal to me, but I made it about a Viennese family so that it wouldn’t seem to be about me,” Stoppard told the UK newspaper The Guardian in 2019, just before Leopoldstadt opened in London.

Referring to the current New York production, producer Sonia Friedman said it was Stoppard’s “most personal masterwork.” The other three other Tony Awards went to Patrick Marber for Best Director, Brandon Uranowitz for Best Featured Actor in a Play, and Brigitte Reiffenstuel for Best Costume Design of a Play.

“Thank you Tom Stoppard for writing a play about Jewish identity and antisemitism and the false promise of assimilation with the nuances and the complexities and the contradictions that they deserve. My ancestors, many of whom did not make it out of Poland, also thank you,” Uranowitz said when accepting his award, according to the New York Times.

The name of the play refers to the traditional Jewish quarter in Vienna. The area was originally similar to Prague’s Josefov as both cities were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Jews were subject to the same laws. The play has five acts, starting with the beginning of the 20th century and going through both world wars and the aftermath of the Holocaust.

The Tony Awards do not have a separate category for writers, so Best Play honors both the writers and the producers of the play. With this fifth win, Stoppard leaves other playwrights in the dust, as no one else has won more than twice. Seven authors have two wins: Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, Terrence McNally, Arthur Miller, Yasmina Reza, Peter Shaffer, and Neil Simon.

The current production debuted in New York at the Longacre Theater on Oct. 2, 2022, after previously running in London’s West End, starting in 2020. It won two Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best New Play. Marber also directed the original production but with a mostly different cast.

Stoppard, who is now 85 years old, hinted that this might be his last play, though he has since walked those comments back a bit. “At the moment, I’m sitting here with nothing to write, and I’m thinking I really ought to try and write something else now,” Stoppard told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in October 2021. He also told The Guardian that he was astonished to see that it’s five years since his last play The Hard Problem: “I’ll have to get a move on or I’ll be pushing 90 before the next one.”

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