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2013 Tony Award Picks: Who SHOULD Win

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TONYMUSICALLEADSThe Nance Lyceum Theatre

The most important question for me about the 2013 Tony Awards is not: Is Kinky Boots a shoe-in for the bulk of its 13 Tony Award nominations, more than any other show this season?

Or: Will Matilda, with 12 nominations, dominate the night?

Or: Will Tom Hanks be the lucky guy he’s always been and win a Tony for his Broadway debut?

The question is: Why do so many theatergoers care what 435 people think?

There are just 868 voters for the Tony Awards. As theater critic (and Tony voter) Jeremy Gerard pointed out last week in his diatribe against “Phony Tony Voting“, many of these voters are from out-

of-The Trip to Bountiful Stephen Sondheim Theatretown and don’t even see all the shows they’re voting on. Who are Matilda Sam S. Shubert Theatrethese voters? Many are theater artists; most seem to be in the business of commercial theater. Only 25 are critics; the rest of the critics are excluded under the Orwellian/Alice in Wonderland argument that we can’t be impartial since we’ve gone public with our opinions. Meanwhile, the decision-making is allowed into the hands of people who have a financial interest in the outcome.

In his article, Gerard also argues it is “rotten… that, after 67 years, the Tonys still exclude off-Broadway while claiming to celebrate the best of American theater.”

So why are the Tony Awards given so much more importance than any of the many, many other theater awards that have sprouted up since the Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theater were Tony Awards Statuetteestablished in 1947? The answer is simple: The Tony Awards show is the only one that is televised on a broadcast network. It is the only opportunity each year for millions of theater lovers to catch up on what’s happening on New York stages. Its influence is profound: Billy Porter, nominee this year for best performance of an actor in a leading role in a musical, says it was watching Jennifer Holliday perform in the 1982 Tony Awards that persuaded the then-12-year-old Pittsburgh native to become a professional performer.

Below are my picks for the 2013 Tony Awards — by which I mean, whom I would choose among the nominees. These are not my predictions of who will actually win: How can I guess what 800-odd people who haven’t even seen all the shows will vote for? And why should I, since I have seen all the shows?

BEST PLAY

vanyalogo2Nominees: The Assembled Parties; Lucky Guy; The Testament of Mary; Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

I would be happy to see either Vanya Sonia or The Assembled Parties win this category. Both moved and amused me. Both are extraordinarily well-acted. I even admired the sets of each.

BEST MUSICAL

Nominees: Bring It On: The Musical; A Christmas Story, The Musical; Kinky Boots; Matilda The Musical
This is not as much of a slam-dunk for me as it apparently will be for many Tony voters. I liked “A Christmas Story” almost as much, and it is a warmer show. But there’s an inventiveness in the design of “Matilda” and a cleverness in the lyrics that distinguishes it.

BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL

Nominees: A Christmas Story, The Musical; Kinky Boots; Matilda The Musical; Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Joseph Robinette

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND/OR LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATRE

Nominees: A Christmas Story, The Musical; Hands on a Hardbody; Kinky Boots; Matilda the Musical
christmasstorylogo
This is a tough decision, because the show with some of the cleverest lyrics, Matilda, doesn’t have the most memorable score, while the shows with some rocking tunes, Hands on a Hardbody and Kinky Boots, have lyrics that are often unimpressive.

BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY

Nominees: Golden Boy; Orphans, The Trip to Bountiful; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
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My choice: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
This brings up an almost-philosophical issue: Does a production deserve more credit for making the most of  an outdated or otherwise inferior script or are we duty-bound to honor the best script? The production of the creaky “Golden Boy” was wonderful; there is much as well to recommend The Trip to Bountiful with its “non-traditional” high-quality cast.
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
Nominees: Annie; The Mystery of Edwin Drood; Pippin; Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella

"The Mystery of Edwin Drood" The suspects stand on stage so that the audience can choose the murderer.

This is my most reluctant choice, because I  don’t consider Drood musical theater so much as a unique theatrical experience (a Drama Desk but not a Tony category), but the revival was seamlessly executed with a stellar cast including Chita Rivera.  It’s clear in whose hands this award will actually wind up: Pippin. I have to concede that the production of Pippin worked wonders on what I consider a dud of a script, thanks in particular to the circus performance.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY

Nominees: Tom Hanks Lucky Guy; Nathan Lane The Nance; Tracy Letts Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; David Hyde Pierce Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike; Tom Sturridge Orphans
The Nance Lyceum TheatreMy choice: Nathan Lane, The Nance
 This is Lane’s 19th show on Broadway and his fourth Tony nomination (He won two of the previous three.) For this role as a closeted vaudeville performer from the 1930’s, Lane delivers the kind of performance for which he is best known — the song-and-dance comedian with the perfect timing — but goes deeper and darker when his character is off the stage. All four of the other nominees deliver quality performances, and it would not be a travesty if Letts was honored for his spot-on performance as the bizarrely playful and bitter George, even though it is his Broadway acting debut.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY

Nominees: Laurie Metcalf The Other Place; Amy Morton Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Kristine Nielsen Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike; Holland Taylor Ann; Cicely Tyson The Trip to Bountiful
The Trip to Bountiful Stephen Sondheim Theatre
My choice: Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful
This is the category that should convince any serious theatergoer how wrong-headed it is to turn theater art into a competition. Every single one of these actresses gave a performance that knocked me out. A particular shout-out to Kristine Nielsen, who I feel was robbed of her rightful Tony by being put in this category instead of featured actress.
But Cicely Tyson managed to make something fresh out of a role that could too easily make you pity the character rather than empathize and admire her.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

Nominees: Bertie Carvel Matilda The Musical; Santino Fontana Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella; Rob McClure Chaplin; Billy Porter Kinky Boots; Stark Sands Kinky Boots
ChaplinEthel Barrymore TheatreMy choice: Rob McClure, Chaplin
McClure’s performance reminds me of the joke about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in high heels. McClure delivered the song, dance and acting at the same level as the other nominees but also rode backwards on a bicycle on a high wire.
A shout-out to Billy Porter, who does a wonderful job with a hackneyed character.
Bertie Carvel, who gives an impressive if off-putting performance as a sadistic headmistress, is in my view a featured actor — which is how he was categorized by the Drama Desk Awards.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

Nominees: Stephanie J. Block The Mystery of Edwin Drood; Carolee Carmello Scandalous; Valisia LeKae Motown The Musical; Patina Miller Pippin; Laura Osnes Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Diana Ross (Valisia LeKae)

Diana Ross (Valisia LeKae)

My choice: Valisia LeKae, Motown
This is a difficult category, not just because the talent is so plentiful, but because the shows are so beneath them. I’ll admit to coming up with my choice in part through process of elimination, but something magical happened during LeKae’s scene playing Diana Ross in her first solo concert, bringing audience members to the stage to sing “Reach Out and Touch.”  As lovely and impressive as the other nominees’ performances were, I don’t recall any such similar moment in them.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY

Nominees: Danny Burstein Golden Boy; Richard Kind, The Big Knife; Billy Magnussen, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike; Tony Shalhoub, Golden Boy; Courtney B. Vance, Lucky Guy
My choice: Richard Kind, The Big Knife
Richard Kind

Richard Kind

Those who’ve been able to catch the 1955  movie of “The Big Knife,” with Rod Steiger’s absurdly over-the-top portrayal of the thug-like movie studio head, can even more appreciate Kind’s performance, which is modulated and credible before it becomes explosive; he seems to inhabit the role.

I do give a shout-out to Tony Shalhoub who performed the single most memorable gesture of the entire season — as his son reverently but ambivalently picks up the new violin, Shalhoub quickly places the suddenly materialized violin pad on his son’s shoulder, a simultaneously hilarious and touching moment.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY

Nominees: Carrie Coon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Shalita Grant, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike; Judith Ivey,The Heiress; Judith Light, The Assembled Parties; Condola Rashad, The Trip to Bountiful

Cicely Tyson and Condola Rashad

My choice: Condola Rashad, The Trip to Bountiful
An impossible category, all are so good. I’m going with Rashad precisely because she wasn’t flashy; she held her own against all these Hollywood stars with a modest, controlled performance that so fit the character that she seemed to be the character.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL

Keith Carradine

Keith Carradine

Nominees: Charl Brown, Motown The Musical; Keith Carradine, Hands on a Hardbody; Will Chase,The Mystery of Edwin Drood; Gabriel Ebert, Matilda The Musical; Terrence Mann,Pippin

My choice: Keith Carradine, Hands on a Hardbody

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL

Andrea Martin

Andrea Martin

Nominees: Annaleigh Ashford, Kinky Boots;  Victoria Clark, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella; Andrea Martin,Pippin; Keala Settle Hands on a Hardbody; Lauren Ward Matilda The Musical

My choice: Andrea Martin Pippin
Shout-out to Keala Settle, who has an amazing voice.

BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY

Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Nominees: Pam MacKinnon Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Nicholas Martin, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike; Bartlett Sher,Golden Boy; George C. Wolfe, Lucky Guy

My choice: Pam MacKinnon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL

Matilda 10Nominees: Scott Ellis The Mystery of Edwin Drood; Jerry Mitchell Kinky Boots; Diane Paulus Pippin; Matthew Warchus Matilda The Musical
My choice: Matthew Warchus, Matilda The Musical

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

Nominees: Andy Blankenbuehler, Bring It On: The Musical; Peter Darling,Matilda The Musical; Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots; Chet Walker, Pippin
My choice: Peter Darling, Matilda The Musical

BEST ORCHESTRATIONS

cinderellalogoNominees: Chris Nightingale Matilda The Musical; Stephen Oremus Kinky Boots; Ethan Popp & Bryan Crook Motown The Musical;  Danny Troob Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
My choice: Danny Troob, Cinderella
The orchestrations gave new luscious life to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s wonderful score. I could just as easily vote for Ethan Popp and Bryan Cook for Motown.

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY

Nominees: John Lee Beatty The Nance; Santo Loquasto The Assembled Parties; David Rockwell Lucky Guy; Michael Yeargan Golden Boy

Burlesque, 1937

My choice: John Lee Beatty The Nance

Beatty supplemented his usual solid realistically detailed set (The Hell’s Kitchen apartment of Nathan Lane’s character) with an inventive interpretation of a vaudevillian theater, both from the stage and backstage, sometimes simultaneously.
A shout-out to Santo Loquasto, who solved the problem of presenting a huge apartment on the Upper West Side by suggesting its immensity with rotating rooms.

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Nominees: Rob Howell Matilda The Musical; Anna Louizos The Mystery of Edwin Drood; Scott Pask Pippin; David Rockwell
Kinky Boots
My choice: Rob Howell, Matilda The Musical

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY

The Heiress: Judith Ivey, Dan Stevens, David Strathairn, Jessica Chastain

Nominees: Soutra Gilmour Cyrano de Bergerac;  Ann Roth The Nance; Albert Wolsky The Heiress; Catherine Zuber Golden Boy

My choice: Alberet Wolsky, The Heiress
The costumes in all these shows were spot-on, and I could be happy with any of them winning. I”m going for the lush late 19th-century plushness of the costumes for “The Heiress” by Wolsky, the octogenarian who has worked on 20 Broadway shows since 1963 and never even been nominated before. (Hey, this isn’t the S.A.T.’s, ok? Sentiment can be a factor in the grading. )

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Cinderella on Broadway starring Santino Fontana and Laura OsnesNominees: Gregg Barnes Kinky Boots; Rob Howell Matilda The Musical; Dominique Lemieux Pippin; William Ivey Long Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
My choice: William Ivey Long, Cinderella
The other designers offered flamboyance. Long also gave us magic; at least three times a character changes before our eyes from one costume into another in what goes by so quickly it seems like a cinematic special effect.

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY

Seth Numrich and Danny Burstein in Lincoln Center Theater production of "Golden Boy"

Nominees: Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer Lucky Guy; Donald Holder Golden Boy; Jennifer Tipton The Testament of Mary;Japhy Weideman The Nance

My choice: Donald Holder, Golden Boy
Shout-out to Jennifer Tipton, The Testament of Mary

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Matilda Sam S. Shubert TheatreNominees: Kenneth Posner Kinky Boots; Kenneth Posner Pippin; Kenneth Posner; Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella; Hugh Vanstone Matilda The Musical
My choice: Hugh Vanstone, Matilda
The designers are what make Matilda feel so magical, and its lighting is central to establishing the mood of each scene. I would be leaning toward Vanstone even if I didn’t feel that this veteran designer of 19 Broadway shows, who has never won a Tony, was cheated out of the Tony last year because the show for which he was nominated, “Ghost,” got such a poor reception in New York (in sharp contrast to the response in the UK).
Shout-out to Kenneth Posner, prolific and spot-on lighting designer with some 50 Broadway shows to credit, who has won the Tony before and will again.

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY

poster for Golden Boy on Broadway

Nominees: John Gromada The Trip to Bountiful; Mel Mercier The Testament of Mary; Leon Rothenberg The Nance; Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg; Golden Boy

My choice: Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg, Golden Boy

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Jonathan Deans & Garth Helm Pippin; Peter Hylenski Motown The Musical; John Shivers Kinky Boots; Nevin Steinberg
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella

"The Temptations"

My choice: Peter Hylenski Motown The Musical
I won’t say that the sound design is the single best thing about Motown The Musical, but it enhanced what is the best thing about the musical, the show-stopping numbers.
Tony Awards Statuette
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About New York Theater
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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