Tony Awards Thoughts and Ruminations

Fela_BroadwayFor a theater fan, no awards show comes close to the Tony Awards, which will take place on June 13 from Radio City Music Hall and will be televised live on CBS. Yes, it goes up against the NBA Championship series on ABC, but since my Cleveland Cavaliers were unceremoniously eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the second round, I don’t have to worry about being torn between basketball and the Tonys. Of course, with the announcement of the nominations, there are inevitably predictions about who should and/or will win, along with some regrets about those not nominated. I have seen a lot more of the musicals this season than the plays, so I’ll focus mostly on the musicals.

There are mixed responses to the 2009-2010 theater season when it comes to new musicals. None received universal raves or became sellout hits, like Billy Elliot did last year. The musical that is doing best at the box office, The Addams Family, received poor reviews and was not even nominated for Best Musical. Only two of the new musicals featured original scores composed for these shows. That said, most of the nominated musicals, and even some that were not nominated, have their fans and advocates, and Broadway continues to diversify and attempt to broaden its audience with some of its musical offerings. It was not a bad season for musical revivals, but my two favorites closed too quickly, and most of the rest received mixed reactions.

A month ago, I would have said that Green Day's American Idiot was the favorite to win Best Musical. It still might, and it would probably get my vote, if I were a Tony voter. While American Idiot is not perfect, particularly in the area of story and character development, it has energy and imagination, and it worked for me. But sentiment seems to be rising for Memphis, another imperfect but likable and well-done new musical. Memphis has an appealing original score, with music by David Bryan, the Grammy-winning keyboard player and founding member of Bon Jovi, and the show has already won both the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle award for Best Musical. And one can not ignore Fela!, which probably got the best reviews of any of the new musicals.

For Best Musical Revival, La Cage aux Folles looks like an easy winner. I would have personally voted for the wonderful Ragtime revival, which I loved, with the also marvelous Finian's Rainbow as runner-up. But both closed, in spite of good reviews, in January. I also liked La Cage, and the combination of its strong reviews and box office success makes it a heavy favorite. The fourth nominated show is A Little Night Music, a gem of a musical by Stephen Sondheim, but a revival that, as directed by Trevor Nunn, has received mixed responses. A Little Night Music win would be a big upset, but it probably is the only show that has any shot to knock out La Cage.

La Cage's Douglas Hodge also appears to be the favorite for Best Actor in a musical. It took some time for Hodge’s performance to grow on me, but he won me over by the end of the show. Still, I would have voted for Chad Kimball’s remarkable performance in Memphis. Sahr Ngaujah in Fela! got great reviews and can’t be ruled out, and Sean Hayes, who will be hosting the Tonys, also could surprise for his charming turn in Promises Promises, in which he is making his Broadway debut. Best Actress in a musical looks like a three-person race. I’m guessing that Catherine Zeta-Jones will take home the Tony for her performance in A Little Night Music. Her Desiree is a bit more coarse than we are used to, but it works, and she brings glamor and star power to the show. That said, Montego Glover of Memphis is emerging as a strong competitor. I found her to be a dynamic singer, but her character wasn’t developed enough to allow her to give a great acting performance. There is also some sentiment for Sherie Renee Scott in Everyday Rapture. Once again, my vote would have gone to someone who does not appear to have much chance to win, Christiane Noll, who gave a beautiful performance as Mother in Ragtime. I also loved Kate Baldwin’s radiant work in Finian’s Rainbow. All five women would be worthy winners, but I’m picking Zeta-Jones to win.

Zeta-Jones’ co-star, the legendary Angela Lansbury, a five-time Tony winner, is nominated once again, for Best Featured Actress in Night Music. I found Lansbury’s performance to be nuanced, funny, and exquisite, and she would receive my vote. However, the favorite looks to be Katie Finneran, who gives a hilarious, scene-stealing performance in Promises, Promises. But it is a very small role, with Finneran appearing in just two scenes, and the part itself, as written by Neil Simon, is almost “can’t miss.” Marian Mercer won a Tony in that role in the original production, and Christine Baranski was also a riot when Encores did the show a few years back. Another legend, Barbara Cook, is a nominee, for Sondheim on Sondheim. But this one comes down to Lansbury and Finneran, with Finneran looking like the winner, though Lansbury can never be counted out. Can we wish for a tie here?

Best Featured Actor is a competitive category, with no sure-fire favorite. My vote would go to Bobby Steggert for his intense and impressive portrayal of Younger Brother in Ragtime. Steggert has a shot, but my guess is that Robin De Jesus will be the winner for his amusing performance as the “maid” in La Cage. Christopher Fitzgerald, who played the leprechaun Og in Finian’s Rainbow and was delightful, can’t be ruled out.

My choices for Best Director and Best Choreographer were not even nominated. That would be Michael Mayer (director) and Steven Hoggett for American Idiot. David Bryan and Joe DiPietro should take the Tony for Best Score for Memphis.

I don’t want to ignore the plays. Briefly, I think Red, which I found a bit self-indulgent and, while entertaining, not as dramatically exciting as its advocates say, will win Best Play, with Next Fall also in the running. Fences looks to be the favorite in a strong Best Revival category. It should be a close race between Alfred Molina (Red) and Denzel Washington (Fences) for Best Actor, while I expect Viola Davis (Fences) to win Best Actress against strong competition from Linda Lavin, Valerie Harper, Laura Linney, and Jan Maxwell. The wonderful Ms. Maxwell is also nominated for Best Featured Actress for her hysterical turn in the very funny farce Lend Me a Tenor, and I hope and believe she will win her Tony in that category.

Don’t bet the bank on any of these picks. There are some interesting and competitive races. I hope we get an entertaining event with some drama and emotion, and a prime time promo that casts a favorable light on the current slate of Broadway shows. - James Miller

jim_miller.jpg

Mr. Miller is a former Showtime exec who has spent many an evening transfixed by the bright lights of Broadway and Off-Broadway.