Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tony Watch: Assessing the Fall Season Part 1

One lady who should really start shopping for her Tony night gown

It’s never too early to talk about the Tony Awards.  Ever.  Hell, sometimes it can be more fun to discuss them months in advance, when almost any prediction is pure speculation.  And while I won’t go so far as discussing productions and performances that have yet to open, I thought this mid-winter lull was the perfect time to reflect on those shows that have already opened.  So read on for my completely biased, 100% speculative opinion on who is and isn’t a contender for a nomination this year.

Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start, I’m told), and run through this year’s Broadway shows in chronological order:

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
In a turn of events that positively sickens me, this show is actually in a good position to score some Tony love.  This is not due to any actual merit in the production (it’s terrible, and earned my Worst of 2011 award), but because of Tony politics.  You see, a large number of Tony voters are producers, either for Broadway or touring houses, and they tend to favor shows with wide commercial appeal.  Having awards to brag about helps with advertising, and a Best Musical win has been proven to boast almost any show’s box office.  With an average of $1.5 million in weekly grosses, Spider-Man’s definitely has monetary appeal, and it’s the only new musical still running after this fall’s flops.  Since none of the new musicals this spring are surefire critical or commercial hits, Spider-Man could end up with a Best Musical nod, further signifying that the Mayans were right about the world ending this year.

On the positive side, I can’t imagine it scoring any writing nominations (it is much easier for a short-lived show to get nominated in the Score and Book categories).  And while I found the design aspects of the production disappointing given the amount of money and hype involved with the show, I wouldn’t be offended to see it nominated for Scenic or Costume Design.  And since the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical category is pretty slim pickings thus far, Patrick Page could find himself nominated for being easily the show’s strongest asset.

Master Class
Yes, this show happened.  It even got pretty good reviews.  But it closed so long ago, and there are many more plays opening between now and Tony time.  It may manage to make it onto the Best Play Revival list, and leading lady Tyne Daly could conceivable get a Best Actress nomination.  But with so many plays premiering this season, such recognition seems unlikely.

Follies will be a major presence at this year’s Tony Awards.  That isn’t mere speculation, it’s fact.  The toast of the fall season and an event musical for the Broadway community, there was such overwhelming love of both the show and this production in particular that I can’t imagine it not getting a bevy of nominations.  It’s a lock for Best Revival, leaving only three slots up for grabs in that category.  It will also end up in one or more design categories (if it only gets one design nod, my money is on the costumes).  For so expertly realizing such a tricky piece, director Eric Schaeffer really deserves a directing nod, and “Who’s That Woman” (the mirror number) should be enough to net Warren Carlyle a Best Choreography nomination on its own.

Oddly enough, the show’s greatest potential of being snubbed comes in the acting categories.  With such a uniformly excellent cast, and many of them competing against one another, someone will surely get overlooked.  Of the four leads, I would say Rob Raines is the weakest, and he was still wonderful.  Although I would never underestimate the Broadway community’s love of Bernadette Peters, her take on Sally has proven oddly divisive and may keep her from being a strong contender in a year when Best Actress in a Musical is likely to be a bloodbath (we’ll see why a bit later).

However, there are two performers who so deserve acting recognition that if either one is omitted, you can expect a lengthy blog entry from me decrying how wrong the Tony voters got it.  Jan Maxwell was utterly sensational as Phyllis, and if her universally praised performance doesn’t warrant one of the five Best Actress slots I don’t know what does.  And Danny Burstein, who was positively revelatory as Buddy Plummer, is not only a shoe-in for a Best Actor nomination, but at this early date is the man to beat.

Man and Boy
Did you remember that this early fall revival even happened?  Probably not, which tells you just about everything you need to know as far as its Tony chances are concerned.  Three-time Tony-winner Frank Langella is so adored by critics that he may end up with a Best Actor nomination, but that is Man and Boy’s only shot at Tony gold.

The Mountaintop
This show disappointed a lot of people, and will pay for it come Tony time.  After receiving a lot of critical accolades during its London run and securing two genuine movie stars for its US premiere, this new drama underwhelmed most critics.  Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett got good but not great reviews, and the entire enterprise seems to have been damned by faint praise.  If the show had opened in the spring it would be more of a contender, but with the amount of competition this year it may be completely shut out.

There’s plenty more Tony chatter where this came from, but given the short attention spans of internet readers, I’ve probably already lost you.  The rest will have to wait for another day, while I spend the rest of this week trying to figure out what the hell a Superbowl is.

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