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Broadway Lights Dim In Tribute

The Broadway marquees will dim for two theater artists, Geoffrey Holder and Marian Seldes, who both died this week – tonight (Wednesday) for Seldes and Friday night for Holder.  In addition, Lincoln Center announced that for the first time ever, “the distinctive digital  signage (known as  Blades) along West 65th Street” will be  lit from 7:45―8:00 PM “with a special message in her honor.  In addition to serving for many years as a Juilliard School faculty member, Miss Seldes appeared in a number of Lincoln Center Theater productions.”

Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers

Given the controversy that occurred after the death of Joan Rivers last month — in which the Broadway League first announced the lights would not dim for her, but reversed their decision after a social media rebellion — some may wonder about the history of the Broadway light dimming, and the criteria.

Robert Simonson attempted to answer these questions in Playbill four years ago. Nobody knows for sure when the tradition began, but some sources date it to the death of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II in 1960, and say it was a rare practice until the last couple of decades.  The Broadway League, the trade organization of Broadway theater owners and producers, decides who gets the honor. So far this year, the lights have dimmed for Ruby Dee, Lauren Bacall, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joan Rivers, Elaine Stritch, Eli Wallach, Robin Williams.

As British actor Michael Simpkins put it when reflecting on the bestowing of this “quaint and courtly gesture” on Natasha Richardson in 2009,  “it is not surprising that the world of theatre should have such a keen sense of tradition: its output is so ethereal. …It may only have been a dimming of some lights for a mere 60 seconds, but in its own way, Broadway’s tribute was as profound a testimony as an entire mantelpiece of awards.”

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The Tony Awards: My Selections

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Audra McDonald, Clybourne Park, Death of A Salesman, Once are all worthy nominees at 2012 Tony Awards

Audra McDonald, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Once, Death of A Salesman, Clybourne Park are among my selections for 2012 Tony Awards

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:

BEST PLAY

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.

BEST MUSICAL

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

 Mike Nichols

 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

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY:

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 Times take on the Tony Awards

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