Monday, June 11, 2018

2018 Tony Awards Final Thoughts

Well that certainly didn't go down as expected. The 2018 Tony Awards managed to be simultaneously surprising and rather uninteresting in a night that saw The Band's Visit essentially sweep with 10 wins (its only loss was Best Scenic Design to SpongeBob SquarePants). I have lots of thoughts about last night's ceremony, which for organization's sake will be broken into two broad categories: the telecast itself and the actual winners.

The Tony Telecast

Broadway alumni and 2018 Tony hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles

While I have major qualms about the actual results of this year's Tonys, I have to say that overall I thought it was a well produced event. Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles proved to be excellent hosts, smartly playing up their musical skills while maintaining an easygoing, slightly self-deprecating vibe. Their opening number poking fun at their own "loser" status and name checking other famous Tony also-rans instantly diffused some of the tension in the room and allowed everyone to just enjoy the ceremony for what it was. The pair had some clever bits - including a rewritten, vocal fatigue focused take on Sia's "Chandelier" - and were fairly quick witted during the inevitable snafus of a live event (I was particularly amused by Bareilles' "magic delay" quip during the Harry Potter inspired bit).

When it came to the performance numbers from this season's shows, there were more good than bad, although not every show was a home run. The Mean Girls cast in particular seemed slightly terrified, an understandable case of nerves for a group where a high percentage of the cast was making their Tony Award debut. My Fair Lady also did itself a disservice by trying to cram 3 separate songs into their allotted time, which caused Norbert Leo Butz's normally showstopping "Get Me to the Church on Time" to appear unnecessarily manic and chaotic (Lauren Ambrose was in fine voice for her abridged "The Rain in Spain/I Could Have Danced All Night"). There were some odd sound issues with the Frozen number, although it still showcased the production well and demonstrated how surprising it was that neither Patti Murin or Caissie Levy netted even a nomination (Murin in particular is utterly charming).

On the positive side, Once On This Island absolutely *killed* it. From the recreation of the show's unique environmental staging to the phenomenally talented cast, they were easily my favorite performance of the night and would be the show I'd most want tickets for after the telecast (even before their Best Revival win). Tony nominee Hailey Kilgore was particularly luminous in her highlighted section, and Alex Newell just reaffirmed my assertion that he was robbed of a Best Feature Actor nomination. The divisive revival of Carousel also looked great with the surprising choice to do "Blow Low, Blow High;" in retrospect it was a brilliant choice that allowed them to highlight the show's strongest assets, Joshua Henry's glorious baritone and Justin Peck's Tony-winning choreography. And even the most cynical audience member had to be at least a tad charmed by Gavin Lee's tap-tastic "(I'm Not a) Loser" from SpongeBob SquarePants, proving the Nickelodeon adaptation didn't get all those Tony nods by accident.

The show also moved at a good clip, although that occasionally came at the expense of the winners' acceptance speeches. The telecast producers sure seemed to arbitrarily enforce the acceptance time limit, allowing certain (usually famous) winners to ramble on while others were cut off entirely. It seemed particularly egregious that they didn't let Jack Thorne, author of the Tony-winning Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, utter a single word while allowing John Leguizamo's rambling introduction of an equally rambling underscored monologue by Bruce Springsteen.

And while I have begrudgingly accepted that a lot of the "lesser" awards will be given out off air, they *really* couldn't make time for Broadway ROYALTY Chita Rivera and Andrew Lloyd Webber to receive their Lifetime Achievement awards on air?!? It's as if to say, "Thank you for dedicating your entire life to the theatre, but you're not as important as the Hollywood celebrities and recording artists that pop by once a decade or so." For shame, CBS. For shame.

The Winners

Lead producer Orin Wolf accepts the Best Musical Tony on behalf of The Band's Visit.

No point in mincing words: I was incredibly wrong about the way this season's awards would shake out (you can see just how wrong here). In my defense I don't think anyone expected The Band's Visit to do as well as it did, even those who expected it to win Best Musical. With 10 wins it becomes one of the most awarded productions in Tony history, and while I try to take a positive spin on this blog the fact of the matter is the show simply doesn't deserve a lot of them.

Best Actor is probably the most egregious mistake. First of all, Tony Shahloub was nominated in the wrong category, as his performance is a featured one and he was clearly only upgraded to leading status due to his fame. More importantly, his merely adequate performance in no way deserved to triumph over truly sensational work by Joshua Henry in Carousel or Henry Hadden-Paton in My Fair Lady. David Cromer's Best Direction win also feels exceedingly generous considering the superbly inventive work done by people like SpongeBob SquarePants' Tina Landau or Once On This Island's Michael Arden. And while I don't claim to be an expert in sound design, SpongeBob has a live Foley pit that produces the cartoon sound effects live each night; how is that not enough to win a Tony? And finally, I would like to point out that even the CBS producers clearly expected Tina Fey to win Best Book, which would explain why that category merited inclusion on the actual telecast instead of being relegated to the Tony preshow like Best Score (an award The Band's Visit both won and deserved).

The most common explanation offered for The Band's Visit's surprisingly strong showing is that Tony voters were rebelling against a season they felt was too overtly commercial. Which may well be true, but would also be a somewhat erroneous justification on voters' part as it is also based on a movie just like the rest of this year's Best Musical nominees. I guess the fact that it's an obscure movie makes it more palatable to voters? Regardless, it is not a show I foresee having a long life either in New York or afterward, nor do I think it will be much remembered or performed in 5-10 years' time.

In happier news, I was positively thrilled for Once On This Island's Best Revival win. While I would have been more than happy for expected winner My Fair Lady to take the crown, Once On This Island is the most heartfelt production of the current season and more than deserves the recognition. And Broadway baby Lindsay Mendez is another well deserving winner for her performance in Carousel, whose acceptance speech was equal parts charming and inspiring. Her speech is also a sobering reminder the recent discussions around diversity onstage are sorely needed, as whoever advised the now 35 year old Mendez to change her last name to get more work clearly did so in the past 10-15 years.

Overall, after some exceptional recent seasons this past year's crop of Broadway shows were a bit of an artistic letdown, particularly when it comes to new works. Yet it was also the highest grossing and best attended season on record, which provides little incentive for producers to change what they're doing. (Although it should be pointed out a good portion of that money comes from past seasons' blockbusters like Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away, Hello, Dolly! and of course Hamilton.) It will be interesting to see if The Band's Visit's massive Tony haul affects what gets produced in the coming years, or if Broadway continues down the path of adapting relatively safe/known properties.

Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments, and keep an eye on this space for more reviews and opinions about all things Broadway!

Friday, June 8, 2018

2018 Tony Predictions: Best Play and Musical

After a month of celebration and speculation, the 2018 Tony Awards are almost upon us! All that's left to predict are Best Play and Best Musical, the two awards most likely to positively impact a show's success on Broadway and beyond. Best Musical in particular can make or break a show; Wicked was going to run regardless, but does anyone think Avenue Q would have had the life it's had without the boost provided by its surprise Best Musical win?

So which shows will triumph at Sunday night's ceremony? And do they actual deserve to win? Read on to find out!

Best Play

The Broadway cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Nominees: The Children; Farinelli and the King; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; Junk; Latin History for Morons

I could expend a lot of mental energy trying to concoct scenarios where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child loses this award, but its win feels so assured that it would be a waste of time. Like Best Revival of a Play frontrunner Angels in America, Cursed Child is an epic two-part play that by all accounts has expertly translated JK Rowling's Wizarding World to the stage, including reportedly jaw dropping feats of stage magic (Potter is almost certain to sweep the design categories). Lovingly crafted and beautifully acted, the consensus is the play actually deserves the massive financial success its enjoyed since before previews even started, when it amassed a staggering $20 million in advanced ticket sales. Cursed Child is also the only show in this category currently running, which has always been a massive advantage when it comes to winning Tonys. The only real negative for the show is that a win here can't really boost the already sky high box office for a show that remains sold out for many months to come.

Will & Should Win: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Best Musical

Ethan Slater and the Broadway cast of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Nominees: The Band's Visit; Frozen; Mean Girls; SpongeBob SquarePants

Now this is an interesting race. The only show I feel comfortable completely ruling out is Frozen, a competent stage adaptation of Disney's blockbuster film that failed to make much of an impression on Tony nominators or the theatre community at large. That's not to be confused with outright failure, as the $1.8 million in weekly grosses attests, but it certainly hasn't captured the imagination in the way The Lion King did back in 1998. And without at least some passionate supporters in your camp, it is very difficult to win Best Musical.

The conventional wisdom is The Band's Visit will win this award, but there are some important caveats that need to be taken into account. It is not the most nominated show of the season - both Mean Girls and SpongeBob got more total nods - and while that doesn't always correlate with a Best Musical win leading the nomination pack certain helps a show's overall chances. The Band's Visit is clearly the *critic's* favorite musical (see all the "Best of the Year" mentions it loudly trumpets in its marketing campaigns), but the critics haven't been able to vote for the Tonys since the 2009-2010. Not coincidentally, that was the season clear critical favorite and most nominated musical Fela! was bested by the more accessible and crowd pleasing Memphis for Best Musical, a particularly relevant piece of Tony history as The Band's Visit is similarly so concerned with being Art that it sometimes forgets to be entertaining.

If I was a Tony voter, I would vote for Mean Girls, the show that best combines sheer entertainment value with theatrical craft and some emotional depth. Tina Fey's adaptation of her iconic film is a blisteringly funny satire of teen cliques that genuinely has something to say about the way people treat one another. It keeps everything that made the movie enjoyable while finding new and interesting takes on the familiar plots and characters, including an extended metaphor about predator and prey and more nuanced investigations of many of the side characters. Add an appealing young cast and director Casey Nicholaw's trademark energy and you have a surefire crowd pleaser whose only real fault is that it tries so hard to make you like it.

But while Mean Girls has been consistently nominated for big awards, it has struggled to win most of them, often losing to fellow Best Musical nominee SpongeBob SquarePants. Admiration for the Nickelodeon adaptation has been steadily growing throughout the spring, including strong showings at both the Outer Critic's Circle and Drama Desk Awards, where it took home top honors. It has successfully capitalized on its underdog status to become a major contender, and the more I think about it the more I expect a "surprise" upset for this little show that could on Sunday night. The Band's Visit, perhaps a victim of its own hype, has proven disappointing and/or alienating to a fair number of people, while SpongeBob has consistently impressed by being a lot better than it has any right to be. If Memphis can beat Fela! and Kinky Boots can beat Matilda, SpongeBob can certainly beat The Band's Visit, and honestly probably deserves to.

Will Win: SpongeBob SquarePants
Should Win: Mean Girls

And that's it for this year's Tony predictions! Tune in to the Tony telecast on Sunday, June 10th to find out how I did, and check back early next week to get my final thoughts on this season's winners! In the meantime, make your voice heard in the comments, and check out the rest of my Tony coverage by clicking below:

Tony Nominations React
Book and Score
Direction and Choreography
Featured Actor
Featured Actress

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

2018 Tony Predictions: Best Revival

We're only a few short days away from the 2018 Tony Awards, when we'll learn which productions and artists from this past season have won Broadway's highest honor. We've spent plenty of time discussing the later, predicting all the acting races as well as many of the creative team awards, and now it's time to focus on the former. Which four productions will be deemed the best Broadway had to offer this past season? We're starting with the revivals, so read on to find out my thoughts!

Best Revival of a Play

James McArdle and Andrew Garfield in the Broadway revival of Angels in America.
Nominees: Angels in America; The Iceman Cometh; Lobby Hero; Three Tall Women; Travesties

While this category sports uniformly well received productions, I along with everyone else expect this award to go to Angels in America. Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning epic is event theatre on a scale rarely seen, filled with the kind of weighty subject matter and big emotional beats that are like catnip to awards voters. In addition to being the most nominated play in Tony history, Angels has won practically every other Best Revival award in existence, so I see no reason why that would change come Sunday night.

Travesties is respected but heady, to the point where multiple reviewers admitted to being confused despite recognizing the craft on display; Tony voters probably feel similarly and will take their votes elsewhere. Lobby Hero marked Second Stage's Broadway debut in their dedicated home and established the Off-Broadway not-for-profit as a Broadway player to watch. I'm sure multiple Tony Awards are in Second Stage's future, but they will have to wait a bit longer to collect them. The Iceman Cometh earned surprisingly strong reviews for a production most industry insiders didn't seem all that interested in, but the tone of reviews is just measured enough that a win seems unlikely. If anything can wrest the crown away from Angels it will be Joe Mantello's new mounting of Three Tall Women, but I suspect most voters will view Glenda Jackson's presumed Best Actress win as a way to honor the entire production. 

(Fun fact: before becoming one of New York's go-to directors, Mantello was an actor who made his Broadway debut as Louis in the original mounting of Angels in America to Tony-nominated effect.)

Will & Should Win: Angels in America

Best Revival of a Musical

Lauren Ambrose in My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center.

Nominees: Carousel; My Fair Lady; Once On This Island

While this category sports fewer nominees than Best Revival of a Play, it *feels* more competitive as it lacks an obvious front runner. Carousel seems likely to be an also-ran, since the plethora of well executed individual elements haven't quite gelled as a whole for many theatregoers. Some feel the issues are inherent in the script and its questionable portrayal of domestic abuse, while others just think this particular production misses the mark in how it handles said elements, but either way the cumulative effect is a revival with enough naysayers to prevent a win.

Lincoln Center's lavish production of My Fair Lady was always destined to be this season's prestige revival, and it delivers on all fronts. Unlike Carousel, the creative team behind this show has addressed its problematic aspects in a way that appeals to modern sensibilities without betraying the original intent of the show. If anything, director Bartlett Sher's take on the material feels closer in spirit to Lerner and Loewe's actual text than many more "traditional" productions. As always, Sher has assembled a top notch cast to present a subtly revolutionary take on a show we all think we know, and it seems like once again Sher's efforts will result in a Best Revival win.

And yet I can't help but root for Michael Arden's breathtaking in-the-round staging of Once On This Island. While it lacks the sheer physical scale of its competitors it is no less ambitious, having beautifully transformed the Circle in the Square Theatre into an evocative island paradise overflowing with theatrical ingenuity and genuine heart. While I've heard whispers that some found My Fair Lady a tad too stately and reverential, I have yet to encounter anything but effusive praise for Once On This Island. It would certainly be a Tony moment to see this scrappy little show walk off with one of the night's biggest prizes, and while I don't expect it to happen, I can certainly hope for it.

Will Win: My Fair Lady
Should Win: Once On This Island (but My Fair Lady is also fantastic)

Keep checking this space for more 2018 Tony Award predictions in the weeks ahead! In the meantime, make your voice heard in the comments, and check out the rest of my Tony coverage by clicking below:

Tony Nominations React
Book and Score
Direction and Choreography
Featured Actor
Featured Actress

Saturday, June 2, 2018

2018 Tony Predictions: Best Actress

The 2018 Tony Awards are just over a week away, and we are continuing full speed ahead with our annual Tony predictions. Today we finish up the acting races with the Leading Actresses, breaking down who will win and pointing out who deserves to win while we're at it. Read on below!

Best Actress in a Play

Glenda Jackson as A in Three Tall Women.

Nominees: Glenda Jackson, Three Tall Women; Condola Rashad, Saint Joan; Lauren Ridloff, Children of a Lesser God; Amy Schumer, Meteor Shower

This is the easiest Tony category to predict; in fact, I'll go so far as to call it a lock. Glenda Jackson has already won multiple awards for her leading turn in Three Tall Women, including the hyper competitive Distinguished Performance Award from the Drama League, which is only awarded to one performer per year and can only be won once in a performer's lifetime.

As if that wasn't enough of an advantage, Jackson also faces less competition than normal with only three other nominees, none of whom have inspired much fervor among Tony voters. Amy Schumer is a somewhat surprising nominee from the long-shuttered Meteor Shower, and I don't know anyone who expects her to win. Meanwhile, Condola Rashad looks set to continue her streak as a perpetual Tony bridesmaid, with Saint Joan barely limping through its limited run with half-empty houses and zero buzz, either positive or negative. And while I'm sure Tony voters will love the story of Children of a Lesser God's Lauren Ridloff - a first time actress who was brought in as a consultant on Deaf culture and won the role of Sarah after being asked to play it during a reading - the show's early closing certainly hasn't helped her chances. If anyone can unseat Jackson it's probably Ridloff, but that seems about as likely as Hamilton closing anything this decade.

Will Win: Glenda Jackson, Three Tall Women
Should Win: Abstain

Best Actress in a Musical

Katrina Lenk as Dina in The Band's Visit.

Nominees: Lauren Ambrose, My Fair Lady; Hailey Kilgore, Once On This Island; LaChanze, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical; Katrina Lenk, The Band's Visit; Taylor Louderman, Mean Girls; Jessie Mueller, Carousel

As with Best Featured Actress in a Musical, there are some bizarre choices and omissions here. How Tony voters overlooked Patti Murin's luminous, star-making turn as Princess Anna in Frozen is beyond me, as I would rank her work above several of the nominated actresses without hesitation. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Jessie Mueller's inclusion for Carousel feels like a force of habit nomination more than something the Tony-winning actress earned. The Rodgers and Hamemrstein revival is far from Mueller's best work, not helped by the fact she is saddled with a problematic "leading" role which has failed to result in even a Tony nomination for those who've played it before her. It's also a bit of a stretch to argue that Taylor Louderman's take on Regina George in Mean Girls belongs in the leading category, although its harder to begrudge the first time Tony nominee her time in the spotlight.

That leaves us with four viable candidates to actually win, and I think we can safely rule out LaChanze's diva-riffic performance in Summer. I'm sure the previous Tony-winner is doing great work as late disco star Donna Summer, but the musical is so reviled by critics a win for her seems borderline impossible. I think both Hailey Kilgore and Once On This Island in general have ardent supporters among the community, but for whatever reason that show hasn't quite ignited Tony voters the way I thought it would (and should). My best guess as to why is the show opened just *slightly* too early in the season, and voters have been distracted by the newer productions that have premiered since then.

The Band's Visit actually opened prior to Island, but the difference here is that many people consider it the frontrunner for Best Musical, and so it is continually on people's minds. Katrina Lenk is quite bewitching as Dina, the sole female presence of any consequence in the show and the closest thing the ensemble piece has to a lead. If more of Visit lived up to her performance of the haunting ballad "Omar Sharif" I would probably like it a lot more than I currently do, but I still find her hobbled by the piece's frustratingly restrained, understated tone that is subtle to the point of being nonexistent.

Meanwhile Lauren Ambrose is giving the most fully realized musical characterization of the season in My Fair Lady at the Vivan Beaumont Theatre. Her Eliza is also heavily reliant on subtext and acting between the lines, but Ambrose manages an emotional accessibility Lenk lacks without sacrificing the latter's nuance. The only real criticism I have of Ambrose's performance is that while her sweet soprano can sound a bit small in that cavernous theatre, and you have definitely heard the role of Eliza sung better. What you likely *haven't* seen is a better acted version, and her singing is strong enough that you can forgive those times her voice is merely good instead of great.

As far as I'm concerned, Ambrose has more than earned this award. She may well win it, as demonstrated by her victory at the Outer Critics' Circle Awards over largely the same field of competitors. But the objective part of me suspects that Tony voters will go with Lenk due to their love for Band's Visit (and residual love for last season's Indecent, also starring Lenk).

Will Win: Katrina Lenk, The Band's Visit
Should Win: Lauren Ambrose, My Fair Lady
Should Have Been Nominated: Patti Murin, Frozen

Keep checking this space for more 2018 Tony Award predictions in the weeks ahead! In the meantime, make your voice heard in the comments, and check out the rest of my Tony coverage by clicking below:

Tony Nominations React
Book and Score
Direction and Choreography
Featured Actor
Featured Actress

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

2018 Tony Predictions: Best Actor

We are now less than 2 weeks away from the 2018 Tony Awards, and speculation about who will win Broadway's highest honor on June 10th continues to intensify, including here at Broadway, Etc. After making predictions about the Featured Actor and Actress races, its time to move on to the Leading categories, where I will be predicting who will win as well as pointed out who most deserves it. Read on for more!

Best Actor in a Play

Andrew Garfield (left) as Prior Walter and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Belize in Angels in America.

Nominees: Andrew Garfield, Angels in America; Tom Hollander, Travesties; Jamie Parker, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; Mark Rylance, Farinelli and the King; Denzel Washington, The Iceman Cometh

As with Best Featured Actress in a play, this category is mostly made up of Brits from transferred productions. Tom Hollander seems like the longest shot to win here, as Travesties just doesn't have the awards momentum to overtake the other, more lauded productions represented here. Meanwhile Mark Rylance has never gone through a Tony season without a win (he wasn't nominated for La Bete but won for Jerusalem that same season, and won one of two Tonys he was nominated for in 2014), but this doesn't feel like his year, and honestly he's probably busier campaigning for Farinelli and the King to win Best Play so his wife, the play's author, can experience Tony glory.

Which leaves us with Jamie Parker, Andrew Garfield, and Denzel Washington. Parker seemed like the man to beat heading into this season, before the love for Angels in America somewhat surprisingly surpassed the excitement about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Parker certainly isn't down for the count, but his path to Tony gold is a lot harder thanks to an abundance of love for the revival of Tony Kushner's two-part epic. Angels is certainly the more "serious" of the two works, which fairly or not gives Andrew Garfield the edge. But Washington is a dark horse for The Iceman Cometh, a production that pleasantly surprised a lot of critics and provides the Tony and Oscar winner with quite the showcase scene in the final act. I still expect Garfield to win, but I wouldn't be overly surprised to see Parker or Washington sneak through in an upset.

Will Win: Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Should Win: Abstain

Best Actor in a Musical

Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow in Carousel.

Nominees: Harry Hadden-Paton, My Fair Lady; Joshua Henry, Carousel; Tony Shalhoub, The Band's Visit; Ethan Slater, SpongeBob SquarePants

There were only 5 eligible performances in this category, a byproduct of it being a weaker year for musicals in general and a welcomed increase in musicals centered around women; 7 of this year's musicals have female leads or co-leads (a couple even feature 2 women sharing the spotlight with all men relegated to supporting roles). That said, the lack of quantity is certainly compensated for by an abundance of quality, with some truly excellent talent on display here. I can't imagine Tony Shalhoub actually winning for The Band's Visit - very much an ensemble show where his leading man status feels like a courtesy extended due to his fame - but he's certainly deserving of a nomination.

I'm not sure what to make of Ethan Slater's chances playing the title character of SpongeBob SquarePants. On the one hand, the young actor is beyond charismatic in his Broadway debut, so effortlessly embodying the eternally optimistic sea sponge that I have trouble imagining anyone else in the role. He has also already racked up Theatre World and Outer Critics' Circle Awards for his performance, so only a fool would count him out of the running (not to mention the Tonys love a Cinderella story). But at the same time, as great as Slater is, I'm not convinced that he's the best of the four nominated actors, or even the runner up.

Joshua Henry and Harry Hadden-Paton both take already great, award-worthy roles and run with them, exceeding expectations in two career milestone performances. Both also succeed in taking characters with extreme cases of toxic masculinity and making them both relatable and even empathetic for audiences hyper aware of how horribly sexist traditional male/female gender dynamics are. And no actor, male or female, tackled a role more closely associated with a specific performer than Hadden-Paton, who successfully makes My Fair Lady's caustic Henry Higgins his own in the wake of Rex Harrison's legendary, Oscar- and Tony-winning performance.

If I were voting, I'd probably choose Hadden-Paton, who I thought was perfection in a near perfect production. But Henry is offering up one of the best, if not the best, sung renditions of Carousel Broadway has ever seen. His "Soliloquy" is the musical highlight of the season, thanks both to his vocal prowess and his stellar acting ability, traits which carry through the entirety of his performance. Henry's just *feels* like a Tony-winning performance, thrillingly sung and expertly acted, and after two prior nominations it looks like the third time will be the charm for this consistently excellent performer.

Will Win: Joshua Henry, Carousel
Should Win: Harry Hadden-Paton, My Fair Lady (just barely edging out Henry)

Keep checking this space for more 2018 Tony Award predictions in the weeks ahead! In the meantime, make your voice heard in the comments, and check out the rest of my Tony coverage by clicking below:

Tony Nominations React
Book and Score
Direction and Choreography
Featured Actor
Featured Actress

Saturday, May 26, 2018

2018 Tony Predictions: Best Featured Actress

Our 2018 Tony Award predictions continue, this time focusing on the Best Featured Actress nominees. Read on for my thoughts on who will win, who deserves to win, and at least one criminally overlooked actress!

Best Featured Actress in a Play

Noma Dumezweni (left) with Jamie Parker and Paul Thornley in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Nominees: Susan Brown, Angels in America; Noma Dumezweni, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; Deborah Findlay, The Children; Denise Gough, Angels in America; Laurie Metcalf, Three Tall Women

It is both interesting and somewhat distressing to note that with the exception of Metcalf, all of the actresses in this category hail from the UK, as do the productions for which they're nominated. While I'm not as concerned about the state of the Broadway play as some, it is disheartening to see the lack of home grown talent when it comes to plays on the Great White Way. Hopefully next season will see producers taking more chances on American-born plays and productions.

As for likely winners, Deborah Findlay is the longest shot here, having appeared in a long-shuttered play which got little Tony love (although The Children did manage to score a coveted Best Play nomination). Meanwhile, when it comes to the dual nominees from Angels in America, both roles offer such a wealth of acting opportunities I'm not sure how anyone can choose between them. Susan Brown tackles multiple roles, primarily that of an overbearing Mormon mother struggling to accept her closeted son, while Denise Gough plays her pill popping daughter-in-law. While I usually think the effect of vote splitting on Tony winners is marginal, the lack of a clear favorite leaves room for a neck and neck race to be overtaken by a third contender with just a few more votes.

Between her Tony win last year for A Doll's House Part 2, her Oscar nominated supporting turn in Lady Bird, and her return to her signature sitcom role of Aunt Jackie on the revival of Roseanne, it seems the entire world has remembered just how much they love the supremely talented Laurie Metcalf. She could well pull off a rare back to back Tony win with her supporting turn in Three Tall Women, a production the entire theatre community seems to adore. But I think Harry Potter and the Cursed Child's Noma Dumezweni will *just* edge out Metcalf and go home with a Tony to accompany the Olivier Award she won for the same role. Not only would a win for Dumezweni acknowledge her lauded performance as Hermione Granger, it would also be a strong statement in support of onstage representation and color conscious casting. (Despite JK Rowling's approval and the fact that Hermione's race is never explicitly referenced in the novels, some criticized the casting of a black actress as a character many had assumed was white, a notion reinforced by Emma Watson's portrayal of the character through 8 films.)

Will Win: Noma Dumezweni, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Should Win: Abstain

Best Featured Actress in a Musical

Lindsay Mendez as Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel.

Nominees: Ariana DeBose, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical; Renee Fleming, Carousel; Lindsay Mendez, Carousel; Ashley Park, Mean Girls; Diana Rigg, My Fair Lady

Not to take anything away from the nominated performers, but it's safe to say this category did not turned out quite as expected. Dame Diana Rigg is a treasure and Broadway is lucky to have her, but her inclusion for the relatively minor, non-singing role of Mrs. Higgins in Lincoln Center's My Fair Lady has raised more than a few eyebrows. I also question the inclusion of Mean Girls' Ashley Park at the exclusion of her hilarious, scene stealing costar Kate Rockwell, whose dimwitted Karen is the most consistently hysterical performance on Broadway right now. (Fans of reckless belting are also bummed at the exclusion of Barrett Wilbert Weed's Janice from the same show, but in that case I can see why she didn't quite make the cut.)

In fact, while all supremely talented, all of the nominated women also have some big hurdles to clear. Ariana DeBose's star has been steadily rising the past few seasons as an original cast member of first Hamilton and then A Bronx Tale, but the only musical this season critics seemed to hate more than Summer is the unnominated Escape to Margaritaville. Rigg will have to overcome the prejudice against being nominated in a musical acting category despite not singing a note, which while technically allowed does seem to be against the spirit of the award. Both Renee Fleming and Lindsay Mendez are doing admirable work in a divisive revival of Carouselsome folks loved it, others - like me - found it to be an admirable but ultimately flawed production of a problematic show. And Park's more nuanced turn in a musical primarily known for over the top musical comedy could either be an asset or a hindrance depending on how many voters expect all actors in comedies to be laugh out loud funny.

Despite having to compete with the memory of Audra McDonald in her breakthrough role, Mendez seems like the most likely victor. She is a well-liked member of the community who has admirably adapted her very contemporary quirkiness and vocal pyrotechnics to the traditional leanings of the Rodgers and Hammerstein revival, and aside from leading man Joshua Henry she is the most consistently strong part of the show. (Fleming's masterful rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" is worth the price of admission alone, but her serviceable dialogue scenes don't feel quite strong enough to justify a win.) Park is the next most likely winner, and I can even see Tony voters opting for a surprise win for DeBose, but as of now this is Mendez's race to lose.

Will Win: Lindsay Mendez, Carousel
Should Win/Should Have Been Nominated: Kate Rockwell, Mean Girls

Keep checking this space for more 2018 Tony Award predictions in the weeks ahead! In the meantime, make your voice heard in the comments, and check out the rest of my Tony coverage by clicking below:

Tony Nominations React
Book and Score
Direction and Choreography
Featured Actor

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

2018 Tony Predictions: Best Featured Actor

Having tackled some of the creative behind the scenes categories, it is now time to turn the focus of our annual Tony Predictions to the acting categories. So let's get started with the Featured Actor categories, breaking down both who will win and who actually deserves to win. Read on for more!

Best Featured Actor in a Play

Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn in Angels in America.

Nominees: Anthony Boyle, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; Michael Cera, Lobby Hero; Brian Tyree Henry, Lobby Hero; Nathan Lane, Angels in America; David Morse, The Iceman Cometh

Having not seen any of the nominated performances (I do have tickets to see both Angels in American and Cursed Child later this summer), I'm flying blind when it comes to predicting this category. David Morse feels like a long shot as the Broadway community doesn't seem especially passionate about The Iceman Cometh, but with that said his role of Larry Slade gives him plenty of material to work with in what is essentially a co-lead. More stagetime means more chances to have Tony-worthy moments, so the possibility of a surprise win for Morse is certainly there. Lobby Hero costars Michael Cera and Brian Tyree Henry may well cancel each other out, and the fact that Lobby Hero is now closed while the other productions are still running is another hurdle either actor will have to overcome. (Historically, being in a closed show severely handicaps a performer's chances of winning.)

Like many of this season's play categories, the race will likely to boil down to Harry Potter vs. Angels in America. Anthony Boyle won the Olivier for his role in Cursed Child's London premiere, while Nathan Lane was surprisingly not even nominated for playing force of nature Ray Cohn in Angels at London's National Theatre. That would appear to give Boyle the edge, but the American response to Angels has also outpaced the British reception, partially evidenced by Angels beating Cursed Child in total nominations. Lane's star wattage is also stronger on this side of the Atlantic, with the beloved character having been a fixture of the New York theatrical community for decades. Despite multiple nominations Lane hasn't won a Tony since The Producers all the way back in 2001, so it feels like he's overdue for another, especially since he has never been recognized for one of his many lauded dramatic roles. I think Lane will win the day, but don't count Boyle out just yet.

Will Win: Nathan Lane, Angels in America
Should Win: Abstain

Best Featured Actor in a Musical

Gavin Lee as Squidward J. Tentacles in SpongeBob SquarePants.

Nominees: Norbert Leo Butz, My Fair Lady; Alexander Gemignani, Carousel; Grey Henson, Mean Girls; Gavin Lee, SpongeBob SquarePants; Ari'el Stachel, The Band's Visit

This is a competitive category that could go any number of ways, and might be an early indication of whether Tony voters have played it safe or gotten adventurous with their winners. Norbert Leo Butz is the elder statesman of the group, having won twice for his leading performances in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels  and Catch Me If You Can. He gives a fantastically layered, utterly transfixing performance in My Fair Lady, but is it enough to justify awarding him another trophy over the rest of the category, most of whom are first time nominees? If Butz's name is called on Tony Sunday, expect an evening of choices that rewards the established Broadway elite rather than the new kids on the block.

Ari'el Stachel sits in an interesting space between Butz and the other nominees. He's nominated for his Broadway debut, so a win for him would appear to signal the Tony voters are interested in rewarding new blood. But The Band's Visit is the widely presumed frontrunner for Best Musical, so picking the one representative from that show would be a fairly safe choice. Personally, while I don't think Stachel is bad by any stretch of the imagination, I'm also hard pressed to tell you exactly what his character does in the show. Being unmemorable in a field of flashy performances is a handicap I'm not sure Stachel can overcome (and should Band's Visit be the runaway favorite for the big awards, Tony voters might want to spread the love).

The other nominees are more exciting choices, unexpected but not undeserving. While Alexander Gemignani is the longest shot of the group, he does extraordinary things with Enoch Snow in Carousel, a role which would easily fade into the background in the hands of a lesser performer. But I can't see him triumphing over SpongeBob's Gavin Lee and Mean Girls' Grey Henson, both supremely charismatic performers gifted with bona fide showstoppers. Lee's comic stylings have been polished to a high shine, and watching him tap dance his way through "I'm Not a Loser" is the most joyous part of a show overflowing with unbridled fun. Henson is rougher around the edges, but there's no denying the infectious glee he brings to Mean Girls' "too gay to function" Damian, a clear crowd favorite (so much so the writers added a second big number for Hensen between the DC tryout and Broadway).

Honestly, Butz probably *deserves* this award the most. The cynic in me thinks Tony voters will ultimately choose Stachel for having the most dramatic performance, but recent winners in this category show a refreshing willingness to acknowledge how difficult a comedic performance can be. For that reason, I'm going out on a limb and predicting Gavin Lee will tap his way to victory, proving once and for all that he is NOT a loser.

Will Win: Gavin Lee, SpongeBob SquarePants
Should Win: Norbert Leo Butz, My Fair Lady
Should Have Been Nominated: Alex Newell for his gender bending, rough raising Asaka in Once on this Island 

Keep checking this space for more 2018 Tony Award predictions in the weeks ahead! In the meantime, make your voice heard in the comments, and check out the rest of my Tony coverage by clicking below:

Tony Nominations React
Best Book and Score
Best Direction and Choreography