Part 3- Everything Else
In this third and final installment, I'll go through my thoughts on the remaining awards. I'll talk a bit about some of the things that perhaps should have been nominated this year. And if I'm less enthused about the Tonys than I have been in the past, I still have some thoughts on the upcoming broadcast.
Once again, the Tony website has a three minute clip of every nominated show. If you want to make some informed guesses in the design categories, it might be worth checking these videos out.
I wrote a big spiel last year about the design awards – how they're tough to predict, but like the technical awards in the Oscars, they're the ones that often win that office pool. If you missed what I said last year, read it here. Last year, voters almost gave Billy Elliot a clean sweep in the musical design awards (except for giving costumes to Shrek - likely because those costumes were so "noticeable"), but went all over the map in the plays, even giving Equus, which had already closed, an award for sound. I'm just guessing, but I think the reverse might happen this year. So here is who I think will win the design awards. But some of these categories are really tough to call.
Best Scenic Design of a Play
The Royal Family and Present Laughter are both elaborate interiors of huge houses. Fences is an elaborate exterior of a small house, but there's also a big tree that looks sort of real. But my bet? Red will win, for its amazing portrayal of Rothko's studio, complete with reproductions of his masterful work.
Best Costume Design of a Play
Red isn't nominated here, understandably. Some think Lend Me A Tenor might win, with its farcical 1930s costumes. There's also The Royal Family and Fences; both have more naturalistic costumes, which makes them seem less likely winners. But my pick is the costumes for In the Next Room, or, the vibrator play. Given that the characters are constantly taking off, and then putting back on, their incredibly complex 1880s clothing, one's attention is consistently drawn to the incredibly intricate costume design.
Best Lighting Design of a Play
Neil Austin is nominated for both Hamlet and Red in this category. Also nominated are Fences and ENRON. But I think Austin will win – for Red. The play calls your attention to the difference that lighting makes when viewing art, and I think this is reason enough for voters to choose it.
Best Sound Design of a Play
Once again, I think Red is the likely winner here, since the thrilling use of classical music greatly contributes to the theatricality of this production. Also, Red 's designer Adam Cork is another double nominee, and I wouldn't be surprised if voters like to award that. And I bet that they will vote for Cork's work on Red over his work on ENRON, even though ENRON's design may actually be the greater achievement. Also nominated are A View from the Bridge and Fences. If voters feel the need to spread the wealth I guess Fences might win, but I doubt it.
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
This is a tough category, since all four designs are excellent. The design for La Cage aux Folles cleverly reproduces the theater's proscenium arch, emphasizing the over theatricality of drag performance. But this might go over the heads of many voters. The design for Fela! extends throughout the audience, which is always exciting. Ragtime 's set was thrillingly minimalist, so those who enjoy "conceptual" design might choose that. But I think for sheer "in-your-faceness", American Idiot 's over the top installation art/video extravaganza of a set will win.
Best Costume Design of a Musical
The Tonys messed up this year, and allowed Ragtime to be nominated, even though the costume design was pretty much the same as the original production (which was also nominated, back in 1998). In fact, many of the costumes were simply reused. Ragtime's nomination has since been withdrawn, but nothing else was substituted in its place; ultimately, this misstep robbed one designer of the honor of a Tony nomination. The remaining three nominees are Fela!, Memphis, and La Cage aux Folles. La Cage aux Folles should win, and I think it will, since Matthew Wright's skimpy costuming of the Cagelles highlights their exaggerated muscles, greatly adding to director Terry Johnson's overall concept.
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
I have a feeling this award will either go to Fela! or American Idiot, since the lighting in both shows is more ostentatious than that of the other two nominees (Ragtime and La Cage aux Folles). It's a tough choice- American Idiot screams spectacle, but Fela! uses black lights (ooohhhhh). It's pretty much a toss up – so what the heck, I'll go with Fela!
Best Sound Design of a Musical
Again, this is a tough one, but given that La Cage aux Folles and A Little Night Music are both scaled-back revivals (in terms of their orchestras), I imagine this award will either go to Fela! or Sondheim on Sondheim. Since Fela! was nominated in every design category, many may think it should win something, right? So why not here, in the category that is probably understood by the fewest number of voters. So I guess I'll give the edge to Fela!
First of all, I think the biggest snub this year is that of "Theatrical Special Event." Granted, removing this category allowed potential nominees to be eligible in the other categories. And sure, both Come Fly Away and Everyday Rapture (either of which might also have been lumped in this category) came away with several nominations. But other potential "Special Events" (Burn the Floor, All About Me, Wishful Drinking) were overlooked. Not that any of these necessarily deserve a Tony award, but on the other hand, I'm not a big fan of shoehorning something like Burn the Floor into the category of "Musical."
Many people think that American Idiot was one of the most overlooked shows this year – that it should have been nominated for Best Director and several acting awards. I'm a bit more ambivalent about the show than some, but I'd agree that at the very least, Steven Hoggett's incredible choreography should have been recognized. There aren't many other musicals I think were snubbed – certainly The Addams Family was all but ignored, and except for Carolee Carmello (for featured actress) I'm totally okay with that.
In terms of plays, the big celeb hit of the fall – A Steady Rain, with Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman – didn't receive any nominations. It wasn't the best play ever, but Craig was excellent. Likewise, the new plays Race and Superior Donuts only received one nomination each; Next Fall and Time Stands Still only received two each. This left out some great performances – I personally would have replaced Denzel Washington with either James Spader in Race or else Brian d'Arcy James in Time Stands Still, but I guess Washington sells tickets. As good as the cast was in Next Fall, there wasn't really a stand-out performance. Some have argued that an award for best "ensemble cast" should be instituted to allow the Tonys to reward something like this, although certainly, the Tony committees can choose to give an award to anyone they want. This year, they're even giving one to the New York police precincts that patrol the Times Square area! (Personally, I find this somewhat bizarre, if not a little bit disturbing, but that's for another column).
And then there are the shows that received no nominations – the afore-mentioned A Steady Rain, and Wishful Drinking (both new plays), play revivals After Miss Julie, The Miracle Worker, and Oleanna, new musicals All About Me and Burn the Floor, and the musical revival Bye Bye Birdie. Another play revival was Brighton Beach Memoirs, but it did not run long enough for the Tony nominating committee to see it, so it was deemed ineligible. Of all of the shows completely snubbed by the Tonys this year, Brighton Beach Memoirs is the only one I think worthy of any significant nominations. It was an excellent production, and I believe that, had the nominating committee been able to see it, it would have received several nominations, no matter how short the run.
The Tony Awards Broadcast
"Pop songs you might not know are on Broadway" (or something like that) will apparently be the opening number for the broadcast, and honestly, I can't think of a more accurate sign of the mediocrity of this season in musicals. I'm a big proponent of original scores, and if you haven't figured it out yet, the paucity of those is my biggest gripe about this season. Instead, we'll open with a medley that will likely include songs from Promises, Promises ("I Say a Little Prayer") and A Little Night Music ("Send in the Clowns"), not to mention songs from Million Dollar Quartet, American Idiot, Come Fly Away, and other jukebox shows. Perhaps we'll even get one of the Mr. Rogers songs from Everyday Rapture! (Although I think it's more likely we'll get "Up the Ladder.") However, I've read that Glee 's Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison will perform, and I must say, if we must cater to the mass audience, then this is the way to do it. Both Michele and Morrison are Broadway vets (Michele was the Little Girl in the original production of Ragtime - it'd be great if they did something with that, since the revival is one of the nominated shows). I'm all for Broadway performers who have "made it" in TV and film performing on the Tonys – I just don't want to see Beyonce or some other popular music star performing in a misguided attempt to gain audiences. The Tonys will always have a limited audience. Deal with it.
Last year the host was Neil Patrick Harris, and I have to admit, when that was first announced, I didn't expect much. Yet Harris was charming and so much fun to watch, even down to the surprising (and hilarious) closing number, which incorporated the night's winners, some of whom had just been announced. So I guess it is possible that Sean Hayes, who is hosting this year, might pull out something similar. I'm not expecting much, but stranger things have happened. (And Karen Olivo and Greg Jbara are the two hosts of the "Creative Awards," so that's kind of cool).
Which takes me to my biggest rant this year, which is (once again) the "Creative Awards" – those "less popular" awards that don't get on the national broadcast. Last year, the only option was to watch the streaming video on the Tony website. This year, if you get live in New York and have Time Warner, you'll be able to see this segment on television - NY1 is airing these awards as well. So that's something – I've become so used to DVR that having to watch streaming video (which you can't rewind or fast forward) was a bit nerve-wracking last year. Yet this year, there are more "Creative Awards" than there are other awards. The pre-broadcast portion will include the eight design awards (set, costume, lighting, and sound for plays and musicals), and awards for orchestrations, book AND score, choreography, and BOTH awards for directing! There are only twelve competitive awards being handed out during the three hour Tony broadcast on CBS – the eight acting awards, and those for Best Play, Best Musical, and Best Play Revival and Musical Revival (the only reason Best Play Revival made it on this year is because of Fences and Denzel Washington – last year this was relegated to the first hour).
How is writing and directing now relegated to a portion no one will see? How does that even make sense? Do we really need three hours to present twelve awards? The Oscars present many more awards in about the same amount of time, including some that are incredibly obscure (Best Documentary Short, anyone?). Yes, maybe most people don't care about some of the awards, but so what? Let them change the channel. I think these "boring awards" make an awards show credible. I think it is actually the lack of these awards on the Tony broadcast that is the problem.
The Tonys are one of the only chances that the general public has to be exposed to the world of professional theatre. Yes, we can argue that there is more to theatre than just Broadway, and I'd agree 200%. But nevertheless, the Tony Awards are, for better or worse, very important for certain people who are not able to travel to New York City right now, yet live for the day when they can finally get here. What does it say when the only thing celebrated on the regular Tony broadcast is acting? When Lin-Manuel Miranda won the Tony for Best Score a few years back, his fully-rapped acceptance speech was one of the best moments in recent Tony history. Were that to happen this year, no one would see it. Shame on the American Theatre Wing for letting this happen. Celebrating American Theatre indeed. They've become shameless sycophantic star-f***ers, who will do anything in the hopes that ten more people will watch the show, and I'm sick of it.
Ok- rant over. Now go watch the Tonys.
The 64th Annual Tony Awards
The Tony Awards will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall on CBS, Sunday, June 13th, 8:00 – 11:00 p.m. (ET/PT time delay). To view the live Tony Awards pre-telecast (that is, the "Creative Awards" not shown on CBS), log onto www.TonyAwards.com at 7:00 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, June 13th. For those in New York, this first hour of the Tony awards will also be shown on NY1.