Nobody would argue that the Tony Awards are the most important awards for theater in America, but there is one reason for this: They are the only ones broadcast on national television. Although the ratings are so low as to be the butt of jokes, the truth is that the seven million or so viewers who tune in once a year represent more than half of all Broadway theater-goers for the entire year. (Last year, 12.13 million attended a Broadway show, according to the Broadway League.)
One could argue — although nobody does — that any number of the many other theater awards are just as worthy of attention. The Theatre World Awards are older and give a boost to performers making their New York state debuts, the Drama Desk Awards are more inclusive, welcoming Off-Broadway and even a few Off-Off Broadway shows, while the Tony Awards are limited to those shows that appeared in the season in one of the 40 Broadway theaters. (Does anybody believe that Broadway has a monopoly on quality plays and musicals in New York?)
Anyway, it’s nice to get caught up in Tony fever, so here is my two cents, followed by the views and predictions of others. I make no predictions: How can I get into the minds and hidden agendas of hundreds of Tony voters? Here is who I would like to see win:
Nominees: Clybourne Park (Bruce Norris), Other Desert Cities (Jon Robin Baitz), Peter and the Starcatcher (Rick Elice), Venus in Fur (David Ives)
Should Win: Clybourne Park
It’s not a perfect play. I don’t think it will last, but it’s the best of the choices. Other Desert Cities is terrific, and I would have chosen this one – except for the ending.
Nominees: Leap of Faith, Newsies, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Once
Should Win: Once
Once stands out for its feeling of authenticity. All the other shows feel unusually synthetic – you could say fake – even for Broadway.
BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL
Nominees: Lysistrata Jones (Douglas Carter Beane), Newsies (Harvey Fierstein), Nice Work If You Can Get It (Joe DiPietro), Once (Enda Walsh)
Should Win: Once
I love Harvey Fierstein; this is far from his best writing. I guess you could also say that the book for Once is far from Enda Walsh’s best writing, but it’s better than any of the others in the category.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND/OR LYRICS)
Nominees: Bonnie & Clyde (Frank Wildhorn & Don Black), Newsies (Alan Menken & Jack Feldman), One Man, Two Guvnors (Grant Olding), Peter and the Starcatcher (Wayne Barker & Rick Elice)
Should Win: Newsies
Is nobody concerned that half the songs in Newsies were in a 20-year-old movie? How does that make them “original”? Another mystery of the Tony nominating process. Still, like it or not, the songs in Newsies are the catchiest.
BEST REVIVAL (PLAY):
Nominees: Death of a Salesman, The Best Man, Master Class, Wit
Should Win: Death of a Salesman
BEST REVIVAL (MUSICAL):
Nominees: Evita, Follies, Porgy and Bess, Jesus Christ Superstar
Should Win: Porgy and Bess
I’ll admit this is unlikely. Maybe Sondheim will take the opportunity during his acceptance speech for Follies to apologize for his unfair if witty attack on Porgy and Bess. Did he actually wind up seeing it? I did, and I thought they did a good job of adjusting the squirm-inducing aspects of a show that is beloved for its score, not for its outdated attitudes.
BEST PERFORMANCE, LEADING ACTOR, PLAY:
Nominees: James Corden, One Man, Two Guvnors; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Death of a Salesman; James Earl Jones, The Best Man; Frank Langella, Man and Boy; John Lithgow, The Columnist
Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman or John Lithgow
There’s some weirdness in the nominations here. Two don’t belong for different reasons. John Lithgow gives another one of his miraculous performances in a new play, turning an unpleasant character into someone we like watching. But, yes, Philip Seymour Hoffman is the master, taking charge of a classic play that remains so relevant and so moving.
BEST PERFORMANCE, LEADING ACTRESS, PLAY:
Nominees: Nina Arianda, Venus in Fur; Tracie Bennett, End of the Rainbow; Stockard Channing, Other Desert Cities; Linda Lavin, The Lyons; Cynthia Nixon, Wit
Should Win: Nina Arianda, Stockard Channing, Linda Lavin
This is an impossible category. I can’t remember ever being so pleased by so many performers in one category. These three are completely wonderful in very different ways. I can only hope there is a three-way tie. Wouldn’t that be great?
BEST PERFORMANCE, LEADING ACTOR, MUSICAL:
Nominees: Danny Burstein, Follies; Jeremy Jordan, Newsies; Steve Kazee, Once; Norm Lewis, Porgy and Bess; Ron Raines, Follies
Should Win: Danny Burstein
A tough one, again, but not as tough.
BEST PERFORMANCE, LEADING ACTRESS, MUSICAL:
Nominees: Jan Maxwell, Follies; Audra McDonald, Porgy and Bess; Cristin Milioti, Once; Kelli O’Hara, Nice Work If You Can Get It; Laura Osnes, Bonnie & Clyde:
Should Win: Audra McDonald
Yes, Audra McDonald has won four Tonys. And yes, Jan Maxwell was a surprise and a delight in a musical, and deserves finally to win a Tony. But McDonald has never won for lead actress, and she’s just mesmerizing in this show.
Best Performance, Featured actor, Play
Nominees: Christian Borle, Peter and the Starcatcher; Michael Cumpsty, End of the Rainbow; Tom Edden, One Man, Two Guvnors; Andrew Garfield, Death of a Salesman; Jeremy Shamos, Clybourne Park
Should Win: Tom Edden
I don’t care if he had only three lines. He was the consummate physical comedian, and totally persuasive as an 87-year-old waiter, even though he’s about a third that age.
Best Performance, Featured Actress, Play
Nominees: Linda Emond, Death of a Salesman; Spencer Kayden, Don’t Dress for Dinner; Celia Keenan-Bolger, Peter and the Starcatcher; Judith Light, Other Desert Cities; Condola Rashad, Stick Fly
Should Win: Judith Light or Spencer Kayden
Judith Light was great as Linda Laven’s replacement, allowing us to see a new, equally credible take on the character. But that show could have worked well with another performer. Spencer Kayden, on the other hand, was the only thing worth watching in Don’t Dress for Dinner. She was hilarious. The mystery is why it took more than a decade after Urinetown for her to return to Broadway.
Best Performance, featured actor, musical
Nominees: Phillip Boykin, Porgy and Bess; Michael Cerveris, Evita; David Alan Grier, Porgy and Bess; Michael McGrath, Nice Work If You Can Get It; Josh Young, Jesus Christ Superstar
Should Win: Michael McGrath.
He’s a pro. If Judy Kaye wins – and she deserves to – it’s in part because of how well she and McGrath worked together.
I do think Phillip Boykin makes a wonderful villain.
Best Performance by, featured Actress, Musical
Nominees: Elizabeth A. Davis, Once; Jayne Houdyshell, Follies; Judy Kaye, Nice Work If You Can Get It; Jessie Mueller, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever; Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Ghost the Musical
Should Win: Judy Kaye
She was splendid. But if Da’Vine Joy Randolph wins, I’ll cheer – it’ll be Da’Vine retribution for all the cynical naysaying critics of Ghost.
BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY:
Nominees: Nicholas Hytner, One Man, Two Guvnors; Pam MacKinnon, Clybourne Park; Mike Nichols, Death of a Salesman; Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, Peter and the Starcatcher
It would be lovely for Pam MacKinnon to win, though. She did a good job, and it might end the knee-jerk free association of “female director” with “Julie Taymor”
BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL:
Nominees: Jeff Calhoun, Newsies; Kathleen Marshall, Nice Work If You Can Get It; Diane Paulus, Porgy and Bess; John Tiffany, Once
Should Win: John Tiffany
Nominees: Rob Ashford, Evita; Christopher Gattelli, Newsies; Steven Hoggett, Once; Kathleen Marshall, Nice Work If You Can Get It
Should Win: Christopher Gattelli
As I wrote in my review, the dancing in Newsies places it with Anything Goes and Memphis as the most exciting on Broadway. (Why Kathleen Marshall wasn’t able to repeat her own excitement is one of those mysteries that make Broadway what it is.)
I think the dancing in “Once” is lovely, actually, but on a different plane from the Newsies choreographic pyrotechnics.
The New York Post’s Michael Riedel predictions on the Tonys The obvious winners will be James Corden (“One Man, Two Guvnors”), Christian Borle (“Peter and the Starcatcher”), Audra McDonald (“Porgy”), Michael Cerveris (“Evita”), Judy Kaye (“Nice Work If You Can Get It”) and Judith Light (“Other Desert Cities”).
Stage Grade‘s poll of more than a dozen New York critics