Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne in Red - two probable 2010 Tony Award winners.
Many of this year's Tony Award categories seem to be very close competitions - the various predictions of critics and bloggers are all over the place in many key categories (as opposed to last year, when all the predictions that I read were pretty much identical, and in almost every case the predicted winner ended up winning). Plus, there's now about 100 fewer Tony voters this year than last year, since all of the critics have been stripped of their voting rights (about 20 will be added back in next year). With no critics voting, the winners are even harder to predict, since it is the critics whose opinions are easiest to gauge. So as far as awards shows go, there will inevitably be some major surprises this year. However, I'm not sure that anyone really cares, because artistically, the 2009-2010 Broadway season is one of the most lackluster in quite some time. I'm kind of a Tony fanatic and even I am having trouble mustering up my normal exuberance. For the most part, I think Tony voters go with emotion – which elements made them feel the most? But in a season with so little to be excited about, it's difficult to care who wins Best Musical. But that's the next column – first is
Part 1- The Plays
If last season's Broadway season was revival-heavy, this season was balanced: 11 new plays and 11 revivals. (For Tony purposes 10 revivals, since David Cromer's excellent production of Brighton Beach Memoirs did not run long enough to be Tony-eligible). And the nominations (almost) reflect this parity – of the 50 nominations for plays this season, 22 are for new plays, and 28 are for revivals.
So, did the increase in new plays reflect an increase in quality? Sort of. In my opinion, the overall quality seems higher this season, and certainly nothing, not even Looped, was as bad as last season's biggest turkey (To Be or Not To Be). But I still feel a bit let down. Several of the new plays (Race, Next Fall ) are solidly good, if somewhat flawed; a few (Red, Time Stands Still) are even excellent. But no play stands out this season as that magical combination of brilliant playwriting, virtuosic performances, and memorable production values.
For what it is worth, I saw every play this season except for Hamlet. The big winners will most likely be Fences and Red; both are great productions, and more importantly, both are still playing their limited engagements. In fact, I think the contest for several awards is ultimately between these two shows. So if you (like me) are kind of over this season's Broadway musicals, but have that hankering for a Broadway experience, I'd whole-heartedly recommend either or both (although tickets for Red will be easier to get, and also cheaper, than those to Fences). Race and Next Fall are also still running, and worth checking out. And surprise! The excellent Time Stands Still will return to Broadway in the fall, with most of the original cast intact.
But hey – you aren't interested in what to see. You want to know how to vote in whatever Tony contest you're entering, like Theasy's Win a Tony! (Guessing Contest). So here goes:
I'm betting on Red to win. Some seem to think that because Time Stands Still is returning in the fall, it now has a better chance, but I doubt voters care much about this. And if Time Stands Still might be a better play than Red on paper (although I'm not even sure about that), Time Stands Still isn't running right now, when many voters are in town seeing shows and talking with each other. Additionally, the production values of Red make for a pretty thrilling experience, and I think that is a big factor when deciding what to vote for. My personal favorite, Sarah Ruhl's magical and hilarious In the Next Room, or, the Vibrator Play, closed in January, and probably won't win any Tonys (maybe one for costumes). And Next Fall? While I'm always happy to see plays with gay themes make it to Broadway, I think the play itself is good, but not great. It has a great ensemble cast, but all four nominees have great casts. And unlike Red, Next Fall doesn't pack as much punch production-wise.
Best Revival of a Play
This is an easy one. Fences, which came very close to getting the most nominations of any show (unusual for a play), will win. Fences has great performances, design, and direction. Plus, audiences love it. Lend Me A Tenor is an uneven production (it lags in spots), and as much as I loved The Royal Family, it has a more subtle appeal than Fences (plus, The Royal Family closed in December). A View From the Bridge is the closest contender, but it also closed – in March, to make room for Fences.
Best Direction of a Play
Difficult category! We can probably count out Sheryl Kaller – as good as her direction of Next Fall is, I don't see the production winning any awards. Gregory Mosher has been nominated for this award three times already, but not since 1989, so voters might not remember that. And since Mosher's A View From the Bridge is not running, I'm betting voters will choose between Kenny Leon (Fences) and Michael Grandage (Red). Leon did a fine job with Fences, but the production is pretty straight-forward, and the direction isn't so "visible." Whereas the more theatrical Red is as good as it is because of Grandage's masterful work, and I think this is pretty evident. Additionally, Grandage was nominated for this award in the recent past (for Frost/Nixon) and that is something voters might remember.
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Most people believe Viola Davis will win for Fences, and I have to agree. Certainly, voters love the "showier" roles, and as good as Linda Lavin and Laura Linney are in their respective roles, they don't have second act breakdowns that compare to Davis's in Fences. But Davis's performance is more than just a great scene – she is magnetic from the first moments of the play, even while silent. Jan Maxwell, who was the best part of The Royal Family, is also nominated in the Featured Actress category, and I think voters will reward both performances by choosing her there. Valerie Harper's performance of Tallulah Bankhead was certainly showy, but the play itself was so execrable that I can't imagine she has a chance.
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
This category is a celebrity-junkie's heaven: Jude Law, Liev Schreiber, Christopher Walken, and Denzel Washington are all well-known to even non-theatre audiences. The fact that Alfred Molina is probably the least familiar name is kind of hilarious. But hey – though I didn't see Hamlet, I heard Jude Law was terrific. And certainly the other actors, movie stars or not, are all deserving of their nominations. I highly doubt Jude Law will win – it's Shakespeare, and one that closed in December, at that. Christopher Walken is good, but I bet the play (which I kind of hated) will turn many voters off, and even those that like it may think Walken is just doing his typical "weird Walken" thing. Liev Schreiber, who was excellent in A View From the Bridge, might have a better chance if his play was still running. Most pundits seem to agree it will either go to Denzel Washington or Alfred Molina, and from what I can tell, slightly more people think Denzel Washington will win. But I'd place my bet on Alfred Molina – I don't think voters are as infatuated with celebrities as we all might like to think. And in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Denzel's superstar status actually hurts him a bit here.
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
As I suggest above, Jan Maxwell is the likely winner here, since she was nominated twice this year, for two excellent performances. Maxwell, one of the best theatre actresses working today, has been nominated twice before, and I think people will be eager to reward not just her hilarious performance in Lend Me A Tenor (the show only shines when she is on stage), but her devotion to the theatre. Jessica Hecht's riveting performance in A View From the Bridge would be my second choice were I voting, but Maxwell is the real standout.
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
This is another really difficult category, and all five nominees gave great performances. I think it is safe to rule out David Alan Grier (Race) and Stephen Kunken (ENRON). ENRON closed surprisingly quickly, making it one of this season's big flops. As for Race, I just don't sense the buzz around it that I sense around the other nominated plays. Jon Michael Hill was good in Superior Donuts – although the play disappointed me (along with many others), Hill was commonly said to be the best thing in it. And while Tony voters don't often pick shows that have closed when voting in the big categories, they have been known to do so in Featured Acting categories. But just like in the Direction and Leading Actor categories, I think this award is between Fences and Red. Personally, Red 's Eddie Redmayne was a bit too modern for my taste – I had a difficult time believing he was really a young man in the 1950s. I'd love for Stephen McKinley Henderson, the August Wilson stalwart who's never been nominated before, to win for his brilliantly understated performance in Fences. But I have a feeling Redmayne has the slight edge, if only because he has the flashier role.
Stay tuned for Part 2- The Musicals