Sean Hayes and Katie Finneran in Promises, Promises. Look for Finneran to take home her second Tony. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Part 2- The Musicals
It almost hurts me to think about this season of Broadway musicals. Especially the new ones. While there were six revivals, there were ten new musicals; one might think with so much new material, there must have been something amazing. But when people come to town, I still recommend In the Heights and Next to Normal over anything new that opened this season. I got so fed up that I even stopped going. For those who know me, this might seem shocking; in my hierarchy of what to see on Broadway, new musicals are at the top of the list. But this season, I skipped three new musicals. While All About Me had some camp appeal, it closed before I got around to seeing it. And I just couldn't find the energy to check out Come Fly Away or Million Dollar Quartet; I'm getting tired of dance revues and jukebox musicals of hit songs from the 1950s. I'm sure these are perfectly respectable shows, but I just couldn't muster up the will to see them.
How I would have loved for something – anything – to be exciting or controversial. Instead, we got a lot of pleasant. And pleasant tends to be forgettable. Is there anything that made me think "wow – I am SO GLAD I saw that"? Perhaps. There were a few memorable performances (Katie Finneran in Promises, Promises, Douglas Hodge in La Cage aux Folles). And I was able to revisit some beloved shows (Ragtime, A Little Night Music). But for the most part, everything I enjoyed about this season was due to the revivals.
The biggest category of the Tony awards, not to mention the only one that has been shown to consistently affect box offices in a BIG way, is the Tony award for Best Musical. And it is often a contentious battle between the entertaining and the courageous, or the safe and the risky, or the one with mass appeal and the snob hit. And if last year's winner (Billy Elliot) was a foregone conclusion, this year is much less predictable. Only Million Dollar Quartet seems to have no chance at winning, but based on whom you ask, the other three nominees all have a shot. I'd love to say this meant I was eagerly anticipating this award, but unfortunately, I don't think any of the nominees actually deserves to win (and I suspect many Tony voters feel the same). I'd love to be rooting for American Idiot, but I found its lack of character development disappointing, not to mention its gender and racial politics somewhat troubling. And while American Idiot has its fans, I'm betting not enough of them are Tony voters. Fela! might be seen as the "artistic" choice, and if the critics were voting this year, it would have a strong shot at winning. But again, I don't think Fela! is the kind of musical one feels passionately about, and for something "different" to win this award (like Avenue Q or Spring Awakening), it needs to inspire some kind of passion. While I admire much of Fela!, it left me a bit cold. So my guess is that Memphis will win. It is the only nominee with an original score, which certainly helps. It has lots of big dance numbers, and even attempts social relevance (although I think it is painfully simplistic in this regard). Essentially, it is a paint-by-numbers Broadway musical, but in a season like this one, I suspect that may be enough.
Best Revival of a Musical
This is a fairly competitive category, and one potential nominee – Promises, Promises – didn't even make the cut. (The other, Bye Bye Birdie, should have been cut from the Broadway season before it even appeared). Personally, I think this award should go to Finian's Rainbow – a glorious production of a musical that had never been revived because the script was so problematic. Yet this was a beautiful reworking of material often thought unworkable, and that's what I think the Best Revival award should be for. Yet like Ragtime, Finian's Rainbow closed; I think neither has much chance of winning. This leaves A Little Night Music and La Cage aux Folles. While I left both shows high on a cloud of musical bliss, I think La Cage aux Folles, with its rousing second act hymn "The Best of Times," will win. Put it this way – A Little Night Music is black and white and towering bare trees, while La Cage aux Folles is vibrant color and towering (sometimes bare) drag queens. Which one do you think Tony voters will pick?
Best Book of a Musical
Many people believe Memphis will win this award. Certainly, it has a very good chance, given the other nominees. I highly doubt that either Fela! or Million Dollar Quartet stand any chance here. However, if voters are as ambivalent about Memphis as I imagine, and feel forced to give it the award for Best Original Score (see below), they may well want to give something else the award here. If that is the case, they will likely pick Everyday Rapture, which certainly deserves the award. While some claim it is essentially a cabaret act writ large, I think it is one of the smartest things on Broadway this season. Everyday Rapture cleverly blurs the line between what is made up and what is true – Sherie Rene Scott sort of plays herself, except sometimes she doesn't. Scott, who co-wrote the book with Dick Scanlon, is also nominated this year for Leading Actress, and is a familiar presence in New York theatre. So there are certainly additional reasons why Everyday Rapture might win. And I think (although I may be overly optimistic in saying so) it will.
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Ugh- if the Tony nominating committee had any balls, they would have eliminated this category this year (as they did in 1989), since only two new musicals have original scores. The others are mostly revues (Sondheim on Sondheim) and jukebox musicals (Million Dollar Quartet). American Idiot is a staging of Green Day's album of the same name (with other songs of theirs added), and Fela! uses the music of Fela Kuti. Come Fly Away and Burn the Floor are dance revues, and All About Me was essentially a two person show; all three would have fit well in the "Special Theatrical Event" category, had that category not been eliminated. (If you disagree about Come Fly Away, just recall Contact, a similar kind of show: Contact 's winning Best Musical was the reason the Special Theatrical Event category was created back in 2001).
Anyway, since this category is for "Music and/or Lyrics Written for the Theatre," music for plays is allowed in. In 1999, Jeanine Tesori's score for Twelfth Night was nominated. But the fact that two of this year's nominees are plays – ENRON and Fences – just goes to show how disappointing are this season's musicals. Not that I have anything against plays being nominated in this category, but in both cases, the music is not what I generally think of as a "score." ENRON had a few musical numbers here and there, but they were minor (and not one of ENRON 's best qualities). Fences has scene change music. Yes, it's good scene change music by jazz legend Branford Marsalis, but still, it isn't integrated into the action of the piece like most traditional musical scores.
Ugh again. Since everyone (including me) seems to agree that The Addams Family sucks, the Tony will go to Memphis. Part of me would love for it to go to Fences – just to underline the mediocrity, and undeservedness, of Memphis 's score. But it won't.
Best Direction of a Musical
Many believed the sure winner in this category would be Michael Mayer for American Idiot. But in one of the great snubs of 2010, Mayer wasn't even nominated. Personally, I think Mayer could have worked harder to develop the characters in American Idiot, and that may be why he wasn't nominated. But the same could be said for Bill T. Jones's work in Fela!, and that was nominated. Jones might win, but I'd bet that if the vote tallies were made public, he'd come in second in both this category and Best Choreography. I don't really think Christopher Ashley has much of a chance for Memphis; like in Best Book, I'm betting voters won't love Memphis enough to give it awards when they don't need to. And there are two nominees with "visible" direction (meaning one can easily see what the director did, which isn't always the case). Marcia Milgrom Dodge reenvisioned Ragtime on a non-naturalistic, three-tiered set; many praised her production for getting rid of many of the bells and whistles present in the original. But I think Terry Johnson's production of La Cage aux Folles is the one to beat. Compared to previous incarnations, his nightclub is seedier (although not decrepit) and his drag queens are MUCH more masculine, yet Johnson retains the heart that is at the center of the material. Given the wide praise for this show in general, I think Johnson has a good shot at winning.
Personally, I think this award should go to Steven Hogett, since I thought his choreography for American Idiot was far and away the best part of that show, and more innovative than any other movement on Broadway this season. But since he isn't nominated (bizarre!), someone else will win. I don't think it will be Rob Ashford; granted, it is difficult to top Michael Bennett's choreography for the original Promises, Promises, so perhaps it isn't fair to compare the two. But one can't help it, and Ashford's lackluster work on "Turkey Lurkey Time" shows his flaws more than his strengths. Bill T. Jones won a few years back for his amazing work in Spring Awakening. But I was disappointed by his work in Fela!; I didn't think the movement had any build or progression. This leaves Lynne Page (La Cage Aux Folles) and Twyla Tharp (Come Fly Away). Given that the latter is essentially a dance show, and that La Cage aux Folles will win several other awards, I think Twyla Tharp will be taking home her second Tony award come June 13th.
This is always a tricky category to predict, since it is difficult to know how much voters know about orchestrations, and how much of this is just "voting down the line." Certainly, unless there is a case where the orchestrations are obvious (like the 2005 revival of Sweeney Todd), I think this award tends to go to the show that wins Best Score, Best Musical, or (occasionally) Best Musical Revival. So it would seem as if Promises, Promises has little chance. And although a few believe Fela! will win, I think it is between La Cage aux Folles (likely Best Revival) and Memphis (likely Best Score and Best Musical). But since the orchestrations to La Cage aux Folles are scaled down, Memphis appears to have the best chance at winning.
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
By most accounts, this is essentially a contest between Montego Glover (Memphis) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (A Little Night Music). Of course that had to happen – because I saw understudies in both shows. Oh well. The other nominees are Kate Baldwin (Finian's Rainbow), Christiane Noll (Ragtime), and Sherie Rene Scott (Everyday Rapture). A few people think Scott might win here, but I think she has a better chance in winning Best Book. Not having seen either Glover or Zeta-Jones, it's hard to say who will win. Both have tied in several other awards this season. But my hunch is that Catherine Zeta-Jones, who apparently sings a sublime "Send in the Clowns," will win.
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
This is a strong category, yet at the same time, Douglas Hodge seems to be the odds-on favorite. His performance in La Cage aux Folles is certainly something to see – to paraphrase one critic, Hodge turns every line into a three act play. In a musical that received almost uniformly rave reviews, Hodge is one of the biggest highlights. Nominee Kelsey Grammer plays opposite Hodge, and is excellent, especially if you like subtle performances. But Grammer has the less showier role, so I can't see him winning. Sean Hayes was fine in Promises, Promises, but again, he's playing a more "regular" guy. My other favorite performance in this category is Chad Kimball; although Memphis was way too derivative for my taste, I might consider returning solely because Kimball was so good. But for whatever reason, I don't think Kimball has much chance either. Then there's Sahr Ngaujah, who is great in Fela!, and might be Hodge's biggest competition. Ngaujah doesn't do all eight shows a week, although I'm not sure that matters too much. More importantly, as good as Ngaujah is, I don't think Fela! allows him to connect with the audience's emotions in the way that Hodge can in La Cage aux Folles.
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
It's interesting how even in a mediocre year, some categories are filled with deserving nominees. I didn't see Come Fly Away, so I have no idea about Karine Plantadit (although I would have nominated Carolee Carmello, from The Addams Family, in her place). But from what I have heard, she was lucky just to be nominated. Especially since the other four nominees have all won Tony awards. Lillias White won in this category for The Life, and gives a powerful performance in Fela! Barbara Cook won in this category way back in 1958, in the original production of The Music Man. Then there is Angela Lansbury, who has five Tony awards already, including one last year, for Blithe Spirit. If she wins again this year, she'll have the most Tony wins of any performer (Lansbury is currently tied with Julie Harris). But as deserving as all of these women are, I have a feeling Katie Finneran's hilarious turn in Promises, Promises will be the one voters choose. Finneran is only onstage for a few brief scenes in act two, but she absolutely steals the show.
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
The predictions for this category are all over the place. If some categories have a clear front-runner, and others seem to be a contest between two nominees, this category is seemingly wide open. If I were voting, I'd pick Bobby Steggert, who gave one of the best performances in Ragtime, radically re-interpreting the role of Younger Brother. Then there is Christopher Fitzgerald, who played a charming leprechaun in Finian's Rainbow. But both these shows have closed. In the featured acting categories this doesn't mean much, but its as good a reason as any to narrow down the category. Kevin Chamberlin's bizarrely endearing song to the moon is one of the more enjoyable parts of The Addams Family, but I'm not sure that Chamberlin stands out enough to overcome the negative opinions that many (including me) have about the overall show. Robin de Jesús is hilarious as the super flamboyant housekeeper in La Cage aux Folles. I'd be thrilled for de Jesús to win, but some might find his performance one-note or over the top (I'd disagree, but I've heard that critique). So my best guess is Levi Kreis, who plays Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet. I haven't seen the show, but given that Lewis was an over the top personality, I wouldn't be surprised if Kreis wins a Tony award for portraying him.
If you missed it, here is Part 1- The Plays
Stay tuned for Part 3- Everything Else
And also- check out our Win a Tony! (Guessing Contest). You can win a pair of tickets to a "Theasy Favorite" show!