Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thoughts on the 2011 Tony Nominees

This season I have seen more of the new shows on Broadway than I ever have before in a single season.  When I saw the 2011 Tony nominees today I was reminded I have several major productions to catch before the awards on June 12.  The nominations this year were quite evenly dispersed, even with a few of my personal favorites left out, and I think the committee did a fair job of honoring the vast range of artists involved in the 2010-2011 season. 

The surprising inclusion of "The Scottsboro Boys" was a joyful recognition by the committee for this incredible show.  It lived for only 49 performances and then closed on December 12.  It's heavy, yet moving subject matter was skillfully presented, but even an excellent score by Kander and Ebb (their final collaboration) couldn't help it find it's audience.  In the form of a minstrel show it told the story of a group of black men wrongfully accused of rape in 1931 Alabama.  When a show closes before the Tony Awards it's chances of winning Best Musical become very small because the voters may not have seen it and Tony guidelines require them to see the show to vote for it.  It was the sleeper, artistic hit of the musical season and surely would have given every show a run for it's money if it were still open.  If enough of the committee saw it's brief run I wouldn't be surprised if it usurps the top honor of Best Musical.  And today it received 12 nominations, the second highest number behind "Mormon". 

For years now I have had a knack for picking the winners for Best Featured Actor and Actress in a musical.  Ask my friend Axel, because as we walked out of the theatre after "Million Dollar Quartet" last year I said "Levi Kreiss has the Tony in his pocket." 

Ask my friend Mair, because I said the same thing about Karen Olivo after "West Side Story" the year before. 

And so it has been for about 10 years now, picking the winner in this category is just "my thing".  However, the well deserved inclusion of Coleman Domingo and Forrest McClendon this year nudged out my personal favorite in this category - Nick Adams for "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert". 

I guess my streak of picking the winners is over, because I thought Nick was the stand out by a mile, and I can't help but wonder if "Scottsboro Boys" were still open would the nominating committee been so generous to them?  It brings up a larger issue for me, less artistic and more practical, of how much should a show that has closed be recognized and honored with nominations when shows that are still open and struggling to find audiences can use the boost in publicity? 

In a show that goes full throttle from the get go, Nick is giving a high octane performance as Adam/Felicia, the Madonna-obsessed free spirit who provides Tony Sheldon (nominated as Best Actor for playing Bernadette) with numerous set ups for his biting one liners and then hits him right back with his own.  Sentimentally, I wanted Nick to get nominated because this is really a break out role for him.  After supporting roles in "A Chorus Line" and the wonderful revival of "La Cage aux Folles" this is the show in which he really gets to shine.  Aside from camping it up and frequently getting to display his much discussed physique, Nick is an excellent dancer and has the best singing voice out of the three leads.  He simply shines on stage opposite the formidable Sheldon and co-star Will Swenson, providing plenty of laughs and physical comedy throughout, and toward the end of Act 1 creates a fantastic coup de theatre on a giant high heeled shoe. 

While his omission is not nearly as "egregious" as "Victor/Victoria" being passed over for the musical review "Swinging on a Star" in 1996, I regret that Nick is not receiving the recognition he deserves for his efforts.  Oh, and did I mention he's easy on the eyes too?  :-) Better luck to you next time, Nick, and there will be plenty of them I'm sure.

Two other surprising upsets are Aaron Tveit and Daniel Radcliff for their starring roles in "Catch Me If You Can" and "How To Succeed" respectively.  Both of them carry their shows, and both of their co-stars got nominations.  I am a little shocked that Norbert Leo Butz got the nomination in the Leading Actor category over Tveit because I saw the show and both give solid performances but Butz is not the stand out.  Tveit is virtually on stage the entire evening, has some very difficult singing to do, and really gives the show it's core of energy.  Butz is certainly a supporting player and I felt he underplayed the part (and personally I do not care for his raggedy singing, but that is just my opinion). 

It's not quite so bad when it comes to Radcliff, because John Larroquette got a nomination as Best Featured Actor.  I'm hoping the Tony Committee is seriously going to woo Daniel Radcliff to be this years Tony host and will give him a couple of featured numbers to shine in.  It might actually be the ratings boost they have been looking for. 

I'm extremely pleased that the nominating committee remembered another of my favorites, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" with nods to Patti Lupone and Laura Benanti, and for Best Original Score.  Laura was my favorite to win Best Featured Actress when I saw the show, and I'm hoping that even though it closed in December she still has a shot at it.  She is up against stiff competition from Victoria Clark in "Sister Act", but since I have not seen that yet I cannot make the call who's going to win. 

Kudos to Bobby Cannavale, Joe Mantello, John Benjamin Hickey, Frances McDormand, Edie Falco, Tony Sheldon, Donna Murphy, Ellen Barkin, Mark Rylance, and Elizabeth Rodriguez, all of whom I felt were stand outs this season and are currently giving excellent performances.  Go see any of their shows - "M*therF*cker with the Hat", "Good People", "The Normal Heart", "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert", "Jerusalem", or even "People in the Picture", and each of these artists will make it worth your while even if you are not completely enamored with the material they are performing (which might only be the case with "People in the Picture", the rest are definitely the best of the season.)

I can't make my own Tony predictions at this time because there are still a number of major shows I need to see.  Between now and June 12 my list includes:

"The Book of Mormon" - I always knew that if the creators got it right it would be the hit of the season.  Without an out-of-town try out, a recording released in advance, or any word of mouth there was no way to determine if they would produce a hit, which obviously they did considering their 14 nominations today.  From what I've heard it is well deserved and I better get there before it becomes a sold-out mega hit after the Tony's.

"Sister Act" - is a known property with a built in audience.  From the few clips I've seen it looks extremely fun and true to the original movie.  It got 5 nominations today including Best Musical, Best Actress for Patina Miller in Whoopi Goldberg's role, and Best Featured Actress for Victoria Clark. 

"The Importance of Being Earnest" - Brian Bedford apparently has them rolling in the aisles with his Tony nominated performance as Lady Bracknell, and since I have never seen a professional production of this play it's on the top of my list.

"Anything Goes" - Sutton Foster is nominated as Best Actress in a musical, and Kathleen Marshal is nominated for choreography.  This has always been one of my favorite classic musicals, and the songs are delicious and de-lovely. 

"How To Succeed in Business" - Starring Daniel Radcliff in his second outing on the Great White Way.  He spent a year training to sing and dance for this production and his efforts seem to have paid off.  John Larroquette for Best Featured Actor in a musical and Best Musical revival were two of the eight nominations this show received.

"Born Yesterday" - A revival of this comedy stars Jim Belushi and Nina Arianda, both making their Broadway debuts, supported by the considerable talent of Robert Sean Leonard.  Arianda is nominated as Best Actress in a play for her debut in the role.

I'll be reporting on each one as I see it and with a bit of luck I will have my list of Tony predictions in time for the big night on June 12.

Happy Theatre-going!

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