Tuesday, June 6, 2023

My Dedicatedly Inaccurate Tony Predictions

Well the season itself has been a bit more of a return to pre-pandemic times, but with the WGA striking (hence the upcoming unscripted Tony telecast) and a possible SAG-AFTRA strike on its heels, I'm gonna guess we'll be in for some weirdness come June 11th. But it'll be good to see the live performances from the shows, which has been the highlight for me since I started watching the telecasts in 1998.

What's becoming clearer, though, is how much this behemoth could use an overhaul. As additional design elements, like puppetry and projection, are becoming more prevalent, they warrant their own category. I think there could and should also be space made for combat and intimacy coordination and choreography, artforms as complex as dance choreography. And then of course there's the question of gendered acting categories, which I discussed briefly here.

I still remain grateful to live in this city, and see as much live theater as I do. This Broadway season, I'm grateful to have seen Ain't No Mo' during its short run (and gratified here to have it be nominated so many times), as well as the Broadway transfers of three Pulitzer-winning plays in one season. I'm grateful that two wonderful Encores! productions got themselves the recognition they deserved, as well as Broadway transfers and cast albums. I'm grateful that, for all the clumsy missteps (and, well, a lot of backslides), I can see that there are artists in commercial theater working to make the space more inclusive, both in the stories being told and in who is telling them. I hope we continue to move in this direction.

Let's get to it!

What will win. Zelda's choice.

Best Play
Ain't No Mo', Jordan E. Cooper
Between Riverside and Crazy, Stephen Adly Guirgis
Cost of Living, Martyna Majok
Fat Ham, James Ijames
Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard

Most of this list feels inevitable, in terms of what made the cut (the three Pulitzer winners, the newest  Stoppard). I was crossing all my fingers Ain't No Mo' would make the list, because I found it the most exciting new play of the fall season, and was devastated its run was so short. In this list, only Fat Ham and Leopoldstadt are still running, which give them the edge. And I do love both (Leopoldstadt, which wasn't an immediate love for me, has grown on me with each subsequent visit to the show; same for Fat Ham, in its various incarnations). I think Fat Ham, with the Pulitzer already under its belt, will take it. But I do wish Ain't No Mo' would be the winner here.

Fedna Jacquet, Shannon Matesky, Marchant Davis, Crystal Lucas-Perry,
and Ebony Marshall-Oliver as Passenger 1, Passenger 3, Passenger 2,
Passenger 5, and Passenger 4 in Ain't No Mo'. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Musical
& Juliet
Kimberly Akimbo
New York, New York
Some Like It Hot

This list is apples and oranges to me. & Juliet and Kimberly Akimbo are distinctly my favorites, but they're so utterly different from each other. I think Kimberly is more unusual, so my inclination is to award that work; but & Juliet is undeniably the more commercial and likely to do well on tour. That being said, I know Some Like It Hot is gearing up for its tour and is probably hoping to leverage that with the touring house owners, who vote for the Tonys (as we all learned after the 2004 Tony Awards). I don't have any intention to see SLIH however, so can't speak to its merits. I hear it's fun, if you ignore the transphobic nature of any humor about Christian Borle's inability to pass as a woman.

The cast of Kimberly Akimbo. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Revival of a Play
August Wilson's The Piano Lesson
A Doll's House, New Version by Amy Herzog
Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog
The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window

In terms of giving specifically me, Zelda, better perspective on a play, I vote for Topdog/Underdog. But Sidney Brustein is the more rarely-seen gem (flawed though it may be) from Hansberry, and it's mostly a good production.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Corey Hawkins as Booth and Lincoln in 
Topdog/Underdog. Photo by Marc J. Franklin.

Best Revival of a Musical
Into the Woods
Lerner & Loewe's Camelot
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

For me it's a face-off between the two Encores! transplants: Into the Woods and Parade. I appreciated the Into the Woods because, unlike some of the other major revisits to the text here in NY, it just let the show breathe and shine on its own considerable merits, complete with an all-star cast (that album! I'm obsessed). But my vote ultimately goes to Parade, which brought a new lens to the musical I've been wanting to see, and doesn't have a bad choice in it. Sweeney is fine (it's too good a script not to be), but it's not a definitive take. If Camelot wins, I quit.

The cast of Parade. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Book of a Musical
& Juliet, David West Read
Kimberly Akimbo, David Lindsay-Abaire
New York, New York, David Thompson and Sharon Washington
Shucked, Robert Horn
Some Like It Hot, Matthew López and Amber Ruffin

While the book of & Juliet is way more fun than it had any right to be, much like with the Best Musical category, I think Kimberly Akimbo is the more special.

Michael Iskander, Justin Cooley, Victoria Clark, Nina White, Olivia Hardy,
and Fernell Hogan as Martin, Seth, Kimberly, Teresa, Delia, and Aaron in
Kimberly Akimbo. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Almost Famous, Music by Tom Kitt, Lyrics by Cameron Crowe & Tom Kitt
Kimberly Akimbo, Music by Jeanine Tesori, Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
KPOP, Music and Lyrics by Helen Park and Max Vernon
Shucked, Music and Lyrics by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally
Some Like It Hot, Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman

In the rather odd position (for me) of having seen only three of the five nominated scores (I had no interest in catching Almost Famous when it was running). Kimberly again for me.

Nina White, Michael Iskander, Fernell Hogan, and Olivia Hardy as Teresa,
Aaron, Martin, and Delia in Kimberly Akimbo. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Jessica Chastain, A Doll's House
Jodie Comer, Prima Facie
Jessica Hecht, Summer, 1976
Audra McDonald, Ohio State Murders

All four of these are terrific performances, and all four are productions where the actress in question never gets to leave the stage. I think it's got to go to Jodie Comer, but these are all worthy performances.

Jodie Comer as Tessa in Prima Facie. Photo by Helen Murray.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog
Corey Hawkins, Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog
Sean Hayes, Good Night, Oscar
Stephen McKinley Henderson, Between Riverside and Crazy
Wendell Pierce, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

I think this one will go to Stephen McKinley Henderson, in honor of his career of excellent work on both stage and screen, as well as his performance in this production specifically. Although I didn't see it, I also heard good things about Wendell Pierce's turn in Salesman. Sean Hayes's performance isn't quite enough to transcend the weak play, and I think the two stars of Topdog/Underdog will probably cancel each other out, which sucks because damn, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is something else onstage. (Oscar Isaac's omission from this list is surprising, as I thought his performance was so alive and present and a nomination a foregone conclusion, but what do I know?)

Stephen McKinley Henderson and Elizabeth Canavan as Pops and Detective
O'Connor in Between Riverside and Crazy. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Annaleigh Ashford, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Sara Bareilles, Into the Woods
Victoria Clark, Kimberly Akimbo
Lorna Courtney, & Juliet
Micaela Diamond, Parade

Hi I hate this list. Everyone on it is so fucking good. Like seriously. How are we supposed to choose? I think Micaela Diamond is the frontrunner, but honestly I'd be fine with any of these amazing performers winning. Ashford works hard to make Mrs. Lovett her own, and is a comedic genius. Sara Bareilles brought warmth and her signature voice to the Baker's Wife. Victoria Clark does the impossible and convinces me she's a teenage girl. Lorna Courtney blasts the roof off with her voice and has the nerve to be hilarious on top of that. And Micaela Diamond manages to remind us all that while Ben Platt onstage is a force to be reckoned with, it is she who carries the heart of Parade.

Micaela Diamond as Lucille Frank in Parade.
Photo by Joan Marcus. 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Christian Borle, Some Like It Hot
J. Harrison Ghee, Some Like It Hot
Josh Groban, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Brian d'Arcy James, Into the Woods
Ben Platt, Parade
Colton Ryan, New York, New York

I'm pretty clueless on this one. But I'm gonna guess that the two frontrunners are J. Harrison Ghee and Ben Platt. I'd love to Brian d'Arcy James to get a win, especially since he was finally nominated for a show I liked (and deservedly so), but I don't think it's his year. I hear Ghee is truly special.

Christian Borle and J. Harrison Ghee as Joe/Josephine and Jerry/Daphne in
Some Like It Hot. Photo by Marc J. Franklin.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Nikki Crawford, Fat Ham
Crystal Lucas-Perry, Ain't No Mo'
Miriam Silverman, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window
Katy Sullivan, Cost of Living
Kara Young, Cost of Living

As amazing as everyone in this list is (and holy shit they're all so good), I want Crystal Lucas-Perry to win. She was beyond extraordinary in Ain't No Mo' and I want to see everything she does from here on out.

Crystal Lucas-Perry and Ebony Marshall-Oliver
as Passenger 5 and Passenger 4 in Ain't No Mo'.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Jordan E. Cooper, Ain't No Mo'
Samuel L. Jackson, August Wilson's The Piano Lesson
Arian Moayed, A Doll's House
Brandon Uranowitz, Leopoldstadt
David Zayas, Cost of Living

Maybe it's just how much I want Uranowitz to win for this performance. But if Jordan E. Cooper wins for the play he wrote and starred in, I will be ecstatic.

Brandon Uranowitz and Arty Froushan as Nathan and Leo in Leopoldstadt.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Julia Lester, Into the Woods
Ruthie Ann Miles, Sweeney Todd; The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Bonnie Milligan, Kimberly Akimbo
NaTasha Yvette Williams, Some Like It Hot
Betsy Wolfe, & Juliet

Give Bonnie Milligan a Tony Award. Give her all of them. (this is, once again, a list of impossibly talented actors, but dammit, give it to Bonnie)

Bonnie Milligan, center, with Nina White, Fernell Hogan, Michael Iskander,
and Olivia Hardy as Debra, Teresa, Martin, Aaron, and Delia in Kimberly
. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Kevin Cahoon, Shucked
Justin Cooley, Kimberly Akimbo
Kevin Del Aguila, Some Like It Hot
Jordan Donica, Lerner & Loewe's Camelot
Alex Newell, Shucked

I'm a bit thrown that none of the incredibly talented supporting actors in Parade made the cut here (no love for Alex Joseph Grayson or Paul Alexander Nolan?). I'm going to completely left-field my personal vote to Jordan Donica, as the one thing the Camelot revival got right. But who do I think will win? Eh, probably Alex Newell. Although I love Kevin Del Aguila on principle so wouldn't mind if he won.

Jordan Donica and Phillipa Soo as Lancelot and 
Guinevere in Camelot. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Miriam Buether, Prima Facie
Tim Hatley and Andrzej Goulding, Life of Pi
Rachel Hauck, Good Night, Oscar
Richard Hudson, Leopoldstadt
Dane Laffrey and Lucy Mackinnon, A Christmas Carol

For both Life of Pi and A Christmas Carol, an extraordinary projection design is integral to the experience of the performance. And the Tony Awards do not yet have a category for projections, so the work of Andrzej Goulding and Luck Mackinnon, for Pi and Carol respectively, is honored here in collaboration with those productions' scenic designers Tim Hatley and Dane Laffrey. Well, okay, if that's how we're doing this, give the award to Life of Pi, no more questions. Goulding's design is extraordinary and transporting, and I feel lucky to have seen it.

Hiran Abeysekera and puppeteers Fred Davis, Scarlet Wildeernik, and 
Andrew Wilson as Pi and Richard Parker in the scenic and projection
design of Tim Hatley and Andrzej Goulding for Life of Pi. Photo by
 Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Beowulf Borritt, New York, New York
Mimi Lien, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Michael Yeargen & 59 Productions, Lerner & Loewe's Camelot
Scott Pask, Schucked
Scott Pask, Some Like It Hot

My money's on New York, New York, if only for the scene pictured below, and the transition into it.

The cast of New York, New York on Beowulf Borritt's scenic design.
Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Best Costume Design of a Play
Tim Hatley, Nick Barnes, and Finn Caldwell, Life of Pi
Dominique Fawn Hill, Fat Ham
Brigitte Reiffenstuel, Leopoldstadt
Emilio Sosa, Ain't No Mo'
Emilio Sosa, Good Night, Oscar

Here again the producers of Life of Pi have had to lump in different designers into one category, in order to honor the incredible puppet design by Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes. I think if we were looking at costumes alone, I'd want to give this award to Emilio Sosa's work for Ain't No Mo', but I can't not award the puppetry, even if a lot of it is reminiscent of what we saw from War Horse. They still manage to make these inanimate objects vital and breathing and terrifying (major props as well to the puppeteers Nikki Calonge, Fred Davis, Rowan Ian Seamus Magee, Jonathan David Martin, Betsy Rosen, Celia Mei Rubin, Scarlet Wilderink, Andrew Wilson).

Puppeteers Rowan Magee, Celia Mei Rubin, and Nikki Calonge manipulating
the puppet design by Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell in Life of Pie.

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Gregg Barnes, Some Like It Hot
Susan Hilferty, Parade
Jennifer Moeller, Lerner & Loewe's Camelot
Clint Ramos and Sophia Choi, KPOP
Paloma Young, & Juliet
Donna Zakowska, New York, New York

My vote goes one hundred percent to Paloma Young's work in & Juliet.

Lorna Courtney, Betsy Wolfe, Justin David Sullivan, and Melanie La Barrie
as Juliet, April, May, and Angélique in Paloma Young's costume design
for & Juliet. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Neil Austin, Leopoldstadt
Natasha Chivers, Prima Facie
Jon Clark, A Doll's House
Bradley King, Fat Ham
Tim Lutkin, Life of Pi
Jen Schreiver, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
Ben Stanton, A Christmas Carol

I initially assumed if the projection designers were going to be lumped in anywhere, it would be here with the lighting designers, but maybe attaching them to scenic is recognizing just how much of a hand those particular designs have in shaping the space. So taking them out of the equation here, I think Neil Austin's lighting design in Leopoldstadt is so key to shaping our focus, to shaping the tone of each moment. The warmth of the Pesach seder, the cold greyness of their last night in the apartment, and the way certain spaces are isolated so that they seem to float in a void. I'm probably not guessing correctly, and this will actually go to Jon Clark's tight and understated focus in A Doll's House or the somewhat showier surrealism in Bradley King's Fat Ham. But I'm sticking with my heart on this one.

The cast of Leopoldstadt in Neil Austin's lighting design. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Ken Billington, New York, New York
Lap Chi Chu, Lerner & Loewe's Camelot
Heather Gilbert, Parade
Howard Hudson, & Juliet
Natasha Katz, Some Like It Hot
Natasha Katz, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

I think it'll go to either Parade or & Juliet so I'm just gonna guess.

Paul Alexander Nolan and Alex Joseph Grayson as Hugh Dorsey and Jim
Conley in Heather Gilbert's lighting design for Parade. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Best Sound Design of a Play
Jonathan Deans and Taylor Williams, Ain't No Mo'
Carolyn Downing, Life of Pi
Joshua D. Reid, A Christmas Carol
Ben and Max Ringham, A Doll's House
Ben and Max Ringham, Prima Facie

This might be the easiest category of the night for me. The sound design for A Doll's House was perFECTion and anyone who disagrees is wrong.

Watch me be wrong about this anyway.

Okieriete Onaodowan and Jessica Chastain as Nils Krogstad and Nora Helmer
in A Doll's House. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

Best Sound Design of a Musical
Kai Harada, New York, New York
John Shivers, Shucked
Scott Lehrer and Alex Neumann, Into the Woods
Gareth Owen, & Juliet
Nevin Steinberg, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

I'm not the best person to weigh in on sound design, but here I'd say give it to either Into the Woods or New York, New York, both of which delivered perfect clarity of voice and music, and then got out of the way.

The cast of New York, New York. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

Best Orchestrations
Bill Sherman and Dominic Fallacaro, & Juliet
John Clancy, Kimberly Akimbo
Jason Howland, Shucked
Charlie Rosen and Bryan Carter, Some Like It Hot
Daryl Waters and Sam Davis, New York, New York

A toss-up for me between & Juliet and New York, New York, with a slight leaning toward NY because of the onstage playing.

The  cast of New York, New York. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Best Choreography
Steven Hoggett, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Casey Nicholaw, Some Like It Hot
Susan Stroman, New York, New York
Jennifer Weber, & Juliet
Jennifer Weber, KPOP

Nicholaw or Stroman will probably get it, but I wouldn't mind Weber's work in KPOP getting remembered here.

Kevin Woo and the cast of KPOP as choreographed by Jennifer Weber.
Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Best Direction of a Play
Saheem Ali, Fat Ham
Jo Bonney, Cost of Living
Jamie Lloyd, A Doll's House
Patrick Marber, Leopoldstadt
Stevie Walker-Webb, Ain't No Mo'
Max Webster, Life of Pi

Fuck, this is hard. It's apples and oranges again, and each director deserves to win for their work. I might have to hand it to Max Webster for the complete view of the Life of Pi production, which is on its own level. But Patrick Marber will probably win for Leopoldstadt and I'll be okay with that too.

Puppeteers Sonya Venugopal and Celia Mei Rubin with Hiran
Abeysekera as Pi in Life of Pi as directed by Max Webster.

Best Direction of a Musical
Michael Arden, Parade
Lear deBessonet, Into the Woods
Casey Nicholaw, Some Like It Hot
Jack O'Brien, Shucked
Jessica Stone, Kimberly Akimbo

I want this to be Michael Arden's year and I think it should be.

Ashlyn Maddox and Charlie Webb as Lila and Young Soldier
in Parade as directed by Michael Arden. Photo by Joan Marcus.

1 comment:

  1. Reaction time! For my preferences, I guessed a measly 11/21 correct. For my predictions, I was up to a whopping 14/21 correct. Biggest upsets for me were Sound Design, both Play and Musical (incorrect wins. I think it's a shame to neglect the precise work in A Doll's House; and Sweeney Todd's sound design is only good in certain sections of the audience), and giving Best Actor in a Play to Sean Hayes. He seems like a lovely human, but his was not the best performance of the season. But I'm delighted for all the Kimberly Akimbo wins, as well as the love for Leopoldstadt. Also deeply gratified for Parade and Michael Arden's wins.