Tuesday, May 30, 2017

My Annually Inaccurate Tony Predictions

Looking over how my votes go on this year's ballot, it's clear the message I took from the Year of Hamilton: show me something new. And while Broadway hasn't stepped up its diversity game as quickly as we might like, I do think it's taken the challenge of finding new stories to tell, and new ways to tell them. It was a season bursting at the seams with new work, and much of it was exciting and boundary pushing - from the aural hypnosis of The Encounter to the dinner club at the edge of a war in The Great Comet, from the exploration of a lesbian romance in 20th century Yiddish theater in Indecent to the collapsing infrastructure of factory towns in the 21st century in Sweat, from Newfoundland to Oslo to Vietnam, from revisiting Nora Helmer to examining the scope of a single lie writ large in the viral world of the internet. We were very lucky with how much good work there was this season, and - unlike last year - I don't have a lot of certainty over who will win come Tony night. I do know that I'll probably be pleased with whatever happens.

Let's get to it!

The cast of Come From Away.

What will win. Zelda's choice.

Best Play
A Doll's House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath
Indecent by Paula Vogel
Oslo by J.T. Rogers
Sweat by Lynn Nottage

It's weird, I genuinely have no idea which way this will go. I personally consider A Doll's House, Part 2 the weakest of the four here, but it's also the most nominated of the four. Sweat just won the Pulitzer, and is highly topical, but Indecent and Oslo (both of which I have seen three times) are definitely my favorites. Indecent is an extraordinary and profoundly moving theatrical piece about the importance of storytelling and art to a person's soul, and Oslo is an astonishing exploration of covert diplomacy, impeccably performed.

Michael Aronov and Daniel Jenkins in Oslo.

Best Musical
Come From Away
Dear Evan Hansen
Groundhog Day
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

As I wrote in my last post, it's been a robust season for musicals, and these four shows were fantastic. I know I'm not the first to remark that if Groundhog Day, a fun and witty musical, is the long shot, we're in good shape. I've made no secret of the fact that I think The Great Comet is one of the more extraordinary productions New York theater, and particularly Broadway, has seen, and it would definitely be my pick; however, I see as the more likely scenario that it will collect a number of the design awards, but not the big one. I'd been assuming Dear Evan Hansen to be the front-runner since it arrived on Broadway, but there's chatter in other publications now that Come From Away will win. I can honestly see either narrative. I think Dear Evan Hansen is - for all that I have issues with the story - the better show, but Come From Away has such an earnest and benevolent message, and it's a good tonic to the current climate. I won't mind either winning.

Best Revival of a Play
August Wilson's Jitney
Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes
Present Laughter
Six Degrees of Separation

There's a part of me that's wondering if my snobbery is getting the better of me - I thought both Present Laughter and Six Degrees were fine, but not extraordinary. The first was good but not as sparkling as I wanted from a Coward play; the second, while competent, didn't show me anything new about Guare's work. However, everyone else I've talked to who's seen either has enjoyed both. So. I'm a snob. Oops. Of the other two, I want August Wilson's Jitney to win because I just really really really really liked it. I thought it was a great production, fantastic cast, and a moving evening. Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes was also well done, and it's definitely an engrossing if nasty narrative of a scheming family, but I liked Jitney better.

Best Revival of a Musical
Hello, Dolly!
Miss Saigon

I haven't gotten in to see Hello, Dolly! yet, so even though it's obviously going to win, I don't know how I feel about that yet. Gosh, my life is full of hardship.

Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Best Book of a Musical
Come From Away, David Hein and Irene Sankoff
Dear Evan Hansen, Steven Levenson
Groundhog Day, Danny Rubin
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Dave Malloy

As I'm about to write for the next category as well, I would have no problem with any of these four taking home this award. I personally would give the award to Dave Malloy for his more unusual endeavor in The Great Comet, but all four stories - even if I have individual issues with some plot points or misguided humor in each - are well-crafted, genuinely funny and touching, and intelligently built. Since I'm putting my nothing bucks behind Dear Evan Hansen winning Best Musical, I'm going to go ahead and back it for the two writing awards as well. So who knows, I could be zero for three on that.

Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen.

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Come From Away, David Hein and Irene Sankoff
Dear Evan Hansen, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Groundhog Day, Tim Minchin
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Dave Malloy

See above, re: how I feel about said shows and their writing merits. Again, I'd personally award The Great Comet, but I'm going to listen to the cast albums for all four scores for years to come.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Cate Blanchett, The Present
Jennifer Ehle, Oslo
Sally Field, The Glass Menagerie
Laura Linney, Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes
Laurie Metcalf, A Doll's House, Part 2

I'm gonna take Blanchett and Field out of the running here, since I'm pretty sure they were nominated because they're Blanchett and Field (both were fine, but eh to their respective vehicles). I personally want Jennifer Ehle to win (when don't I?), but with the entire cast of A Doll's House, Part 2 nominated, Laurie Metcalf might have the edge. Also I have no clue haha have fun.

Laurie Metcalf and Condola Rashad in A Doll's House, Part 2.
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Deni Arndt, Heisenberg
Chris Cooper, A Doll's House, Part 2
Corey Hawkins, Six Degrees of Separation
Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
Jefferson Mays, Oslo

#throwbacktuesday to five seconds ago when I said I have no idea. I have no idea.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Denee Benton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Christine Ebersole, War Paint
Patti LuPone, War Paint
Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon

You can't not nominated Ebersole and LuPone, considering the show wouldn't exist without the two (and barely exists around them), but I'm guessing they'll split the vote. Denee Benton and Eva Noblezada are both fantastic, but ... it's Bette, you guys.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Christian Borle, Falsettos
Josh Groban, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
David Hyde Pierce, Hello, Dolly!
Andy Karl, Groundhog Day
Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen

Ben Platt's been the front runner since forever, and with good reason - his emotional access, his naked honesty, and his professional precision (can anyone else still sing that well with tears coursing down their face?) mark him as an extraordinary talent giving a career-defining performance. It's rare to see such an unadorned and yet detailed performance in a musical, and that work should be honored. It's too bad for Andy Karl, who's also giving a career-defining (and Olivier-winning) performance this season. For years he's done fantastic work in supporting roles, and while Rocky wasn't the star-making vehicle they wanted it to be, Groundhog Day is: it shows off all his colors - his comedy, his angst, his dancing, his snark, his voice, etc. There's a chance his injury (he tore his ACL right before opening night) will give him underdog status, but I still think this is Platt's award. (The others in this category are great, too, but these two are the main contenders)

Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen and Andy Karl in Groundhog Day.
Photos by Margot Schulman and Joan Marcus.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Johanna Day, Sweat
Jayne Houdyshell, A Doll's House, Part 2
Cynthia Nixon, Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes
Condola Rashad, A Doll's House, Part 2
Michelle Wilson, Sweat

Everyone here is good, and it's very frustrating. Condola Rashad was my favorite of this bunch, though, and my favorite thing about A Doll's House, Part 2. I think Cynthia Nixon's fragile-yet-resilient Birdie was also quite excellent, and I'm wagering the two actresses from Sweat will split their vote.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Michael Aronov, Oslo
Danny DeVito, Arthur Miller's The Price
Nathan Lane, The Front Page
Richard Thomas, Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes
John Douglas Thompson, August Wilson's Jitney

Last season I threw my hands in the air for Best Actress in a Musical and voted for all the nominees. I'd like to do that again this year. I have no bloody idea who will win, but I wouldn't mind if any of them won. I want to say Aronov is my favorite, but wait what about Thomas, and how can we forget Thompson? Let's just have a giant tie.

John Douglas Thompson and Michael Potts in Jitney. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly!
Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos
Jenn Colella, Come From Away
Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia

oh dear sondheim, I have no idea. I want Rachel Bay Jones to win. I want Stephanie J. Block to win. I want Jenn Colella to win. Once I see Dolly, I'll probably want Kate Baldwin to win, too (Mary Beth Peil is always good, but Anastasia was mostly a letdown and I'd be surprised if she wins). If Falsettos were still running, I'd definitely give the edge to Stephanie J. Block, but I'm thinking Jenn Colella might grab it.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen
Andrew Rannells, Falsettos
Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos

Stupid ... season ... with its stupid ... talented actors. I'm once again unable to judge one of the Hello, Dolly! actors, so if we pretend he doesn't exist (sorry, Gavin Creel, I found you delightful in She Loves Me last season!), I'd put this between Lucas Steele and Brandon Uranowitz, both of whom did truly excellent work with every moment of their time onstage.

Best Scenic Design of a Play
David Gallo, August Wilson's Jitney
Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
Douglas W. Schmidt, The Front Page
Michael Yeargan, Oslo

I'm a little miffed that Oslo's set made it in here over Michael Levine's design for The Encounter, or even Derek McLane's set for The Price, but otherwise this is a good crop and a good variety. I'd like to give the edge here to Nigel Hook's collapsing set for The Play That Goes Wrong, especially as it's the show's only nomination, but I could see the style and detail of Jitney's and The Front Page's sets winning as well.

Henry Shield, Henry Lewis, Nancy Zamit, Dave Hearn, and Jonathan Sayer
on Nigel Hook's set for The Play That Goes Wrong. Photo by Richard Termine.

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Rob Howell, Groundhog Day
David Korins, War Paint
Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!

If Mimi Lien's set for The Great Comet - beautifully expanded and extended beyond its original concept at Ars Nova and then the Kazino tents - doesn't win, I will throw an impotent rage fit. Seriously. It's astonishing work and a complete transformation of the Imperial Theatre, including the outer lobby.

The cast of The Great Comet on Mimi Lien's set. Photo source.

Best Costume Design of a Play
Jane Greenwood, Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes
Susan Hilferty, Present Laughter
Toni-Lesie James, August Wilson's Jitney
David Zinn, A Doll's House, Part 2

Iiiiiiiiiiiiii have no cluuuuuuuuuuue. Aren't you glad you're reading such an articulate and informative blog?

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Linda Cho, Anastasia
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Paloma Young, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Catherine Zuber, War Paint

*points emphatically at The Great Comet*

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Christopher Akerlind, Indecent
Jane Cox, August Wilson's Jitney
Donald Holder, Oslo
Jennifer Tipton, A Doll's House, Part 2

I very firmly think that this should go to either Donald Holder's work in Oslo or Christopher Akerlind's design for Indecent, both of which are precise and delicate story framers without being intrusive.

Richard Topol, Mimi Lieber, Tom Nelis, Adina Verson, Katrina Lenk,
Steven Rattazzi, and Max Gordon Moore under Christopher Akerlind's lights
for Indecent. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Howell Binkley, Come From Away
Natasha Katz, Hello, Dolly!
Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Japhy Weideman, Dear Evan Hansen

Bradley King is another designer who, like Mimi Lien, has done absolutely fantastic work expanding his original and stunning concept from an intimate space to fill a Broadway barn. From traditional theater lamps to the small table lamps scattered through the space, to the gorgeously explosive comet chandeliers, the entire design is an achievement that should be recognized.

Best Direction of a Play
Sam Gold, A Doll's House, Part 2
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, August Wilson's Jitney
Bartlett Sher, Oslo
Daniel Sullivan, Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent

Having attended a talkback for Indecent, I can now confirm that every moment, every gesture, every beat of silence, has been carefully crafted by the partnership of playwright Paula Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman. It's both intimate and expansive, alternately playful and poignant. It's a beautifully built production with a perfectly unified ensemble. The other directors in this group have all done excellent work, but sitting in the audience of Indecent, one feels one is witness to something special and rare. That being said, the Tonys really like Bartlet Sher (and I don't blame them).

Best Direction of a Musical
Christopher Ashley, Come From Away
Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen
Matthew Warchus, Groundhog Day
Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly!

Rachel Chavkin has done such extraordinary work guiding this show through its many different performance venues, and somehow each time, the show's gotten better. I thought there would be no way to reproduce the immersive thrill of experiencing the show in the Kazino tent in a large proscenium theater, but not only did she pull it off, she made the experience grow to match the space. I saw it from both onstage and rear mezzanine, and I still felt surrounded by the show, drawn in to the excess indulgence of it, and held captive the entire time. And - this is important to note - even with something happening literally everywhere inside that theater at any given time, the audience is never in doubt to where they should be paying attention. That alone deserves recognition, along with everything else.

Best Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Peter Darling and Ellen Kane, Groundhog Day
Denis Jones, Holiday Inn
Sam Pinkleton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

I'm going to rule out Blankenbuehler because his work here, while fine, is not life-changing, and Denis Jones because Holiday Inn was boring and its choreography was aerobic, yes, but beyond that, it was just the familiar big group dances that populate the old fashioned musical, and didn't necessarily say anything new. Both Groundhog Day and The Great Comet have set quite the challenge to their choreographers with their complicated sets, and I think the award should go to one of them. Groundhog Day, now slightly infamous for its malfunctioning turntables within turntables (yes, even more complicated than the concentric turntables of Hamilton), demands a close collaboration among set design, choreography, and direction - something this production (when the set is working) delivers handily, and to great delight (that car chase!). The Great Comet, meanwhile, barely gives its choreographer a stage - it certainly doesn't give him a straightforward one. The space is instead a series of runways and ramps, staircases and platforms, and sitting on and around the audience. And Pinkleton still manages to deliver vibrant and robustly choreographed numbers that take the breath away.

Lucas Steele and the cast of The Great Comet performing Sam Pinkleton's

Best Orchestrations
Bill Elliot and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand
Larry Hochman, Hello, Dolly!
Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Listen. (haha I made a pun) No, but really. The orchestra for The Great Comet is scattered throughout the Imperial Theatre, including instruments held by the cast as they're dancing up a storm. And it sounds incredible, and fills the space. Especially if they're not going to give the Best Score award to Dave Malloy, they really need to give him Best Orchestrations.

What are your picks?

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