Best Play among the trophy haul for David Adjmi's "Stereophonic"
Monday, June 17, 2024

A play written by University of Iowa alumnus David Adjmi has won five Tony Awards, including Best Play, after becoming the most Tony-nominated play in history, with 13 nods in 10 categories.

Adjmi’s Stereophonic, which chronicles a mid-1970s rock band on the brink of stardom as it records a new studio album, debuted on Broadway at the Golden Theatre in April 2024, and its run recently was extended through Jan. 5, 2025. It was honored June 16 at the 77th Annual Tony Awards ceremony; the awards recognize excellence in Broadway theater and are widely considered to be the Academy Awards of the genre.

a portrait of University of Iowa alumnus David Adjmi, a bearded man wearing sunglasses
David Adjmi

Adjmi, who attended the Iowa Playwrights Workshop from 1998 to 2001, had already drawn accolades for the work, including winning the Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Play, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Broadway Play, and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. Additionally, the 2023 off-Broadway production received seven Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Play, as well as two Lucille Lortel Awards.

Featuring original music by Arcade Fire’s Will Butler, Stereophonic is one of only a few plays that has been nominated for best score and orchestrations. The play’s 2024 Tony nominations:

  • Best Play (winner)
  • Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre – Arcade Fire’s Will Butler
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play (3) – for Will Brill (winner), Eli Gelb, and Tom Pecinka
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (2) – for Juliana Canfield and Sarah Pidgeon
  • Best Scenic Design of a Play – David Zinn (winner)
  • Best Costume Design of a Play – Enver Chakartash
  • Best Lighting Design of a Play – Jiyoun Chang
  • Best Sound Design of a Play – Ryan Rumery (winner)
  • Best Direction of a Play – Daniel Aukin (winner)
  • Best Orchestrations – Will Butler and Justin Craig

By earning 13 Tony nominations, Stereophonic surpassed Slave Play, which drew 12 nominations in 2021 (Hamilton holds the record for most nominations for a musical at 16). Variety calls Adjmi’s play a classic, noting that it is “theatrical solid gold. All the tiny details, solid rhythms, and clever hooks add up to a brave, breathtaking work,” while The New York Times describes it as a “staggering, ingeniously entertaining achievement.”

Art Borreca, co-head of the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, was Adjmi’s advisor at Iowa and taught him in the program’s core creative course called Playwrights Workshop. He says Adjmi’s recognition is momentous — and reflects the distinction of the UI program and its students.

“It’s also a wonderful affirmation of the American theater’s openness to supporting work of high quality that engages with contemporary characters and issues,” he says. “As a student, David always brought in work that was exciting. He also made excellent use of the department’s resources for further developing the work through opportunities like our annual New Play Festival.”

Did you know?

Graduates of the University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop, a three-year MFA program, have found success in every medium of dramatic writing, including stage, screen, television, and nontraditional performance. Alumni include Tennessee Williams, Lee Blessing, Rebecca Gilman, and Samuel D. Hunter.

Visit the Iowa Playwrights Workshop website

Workshop co-head Lisa Schlesinger echoes Borreca: “David’s success exemplifies our program’s commitment to fostering theatrical vision and collaboration, as well as perseverance in making a life in the arts. It is also extraordinary when a playwright’s interests and vision align with a cultural moment as Stereophonic does, as all the team players on the production and the audience are part of the collaboration of live theater.”

While Adjmi was at Iowa, he wrote Strange Attractors, a play that earned him admission into Juilliard’s prestigious American Playwrights Program and had its world premiere in Seattle in 2002. His other work includes the plays Stunning, The Evildoers, and Elective Affinities, and a memoir called Lot Six. Adjmi, who has returned to the UI campus as a guest artist to teach playwriting students, is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, the inaugural Steinberg Playwright Award, a Bush Artists Fellowship, and the Kesselring Prize for Drama.

Borreca says many of the works recognized as Best Play at the Tony Awards are regarded as classics of American theater.

“The play that wins Best Play will eventually receive numerous productions in both professional and university theaters and will become a text studied in history and literature courses,” he says. “The nominations indicate not only the high quality of the work but also its importance as a work that speaks to issues in contemporary culture and society.”

The UI Department of Theatre Arts will present Adjmi’s play Marie Antoinette Oct. 11–19; tickets go on sale Aug. 19 through the Hancher Box Office. Marie Antoinette is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc.