Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Tony Watch: Assessing the Fall Season Part 2

Stockard Channing, satisfied to know she's a likely Tony nominee for her work in Other Desert Cities
Moving right along, it’s time to continue picking apart the Tony chances for last fall’s crop of shows.  Next!

Relatively Speaking
I have to tell you, I rolled my eyes every time this show came up in the press.  Before it opened, there seemed to be a consensus among the media that this was an event, filled with A-list talent in front of and behind the curtain.  Well, I certainly wasn’t excited about any of the “stars” announced for this collection of one acts; I hadn’t even heard of most of them.  And while the three authors certainly have marquee value at the cinema, we all know that theatre and film are two very different mediums, and success in one by no means guarantees success in the other.

Three months later, and who was right?  I was.  Not only did the production receive tepid reviews, it failed to light the box office on fire.  Even if we assume that the so-called stars appealed to the older generation, who typically has more money to spend on Broadway tickets, the pitiful weekly grosses prove that this was a non-event no one was clamoring for.  It has thankfully closed, and we can all forget it ever happened, because that is surely what Tony voters will do.

Like Relatively Speaking, here was a show seemingly destined for commercial failure; unlike that other show, I actually feel bad for the now-closed Chinglish.  Given the current realities of Broadway box office, there is something admirable about the producers’ decision to premiere this play without any name stars.  And while playwright David Henry Hwang is certainly a respected member of the theatrical community, he has been largely absent from the New York scene for years, robbing this play of the kind of commercial appeal it might otherwise have had.  Reviews were admirable but not raves, which probably sealed the production’s fate.

Tony-wise, it is a long shot (but not impossible) Best Play nominee.  Its best chance at Tony recognition rests with leading lady Jennifer Lim, whose dual-language portrayal of a Chinese translator was by all account breathtaking and resoundingly praised by the press.  That kind of goodwill should help keep her in voters’ minds when they announce nominations this May.

Other Desert Cities
The heavyweight among this fall’s new plays, Other Desert Cities comes to Broadway after a critically lauded Off-Broadway run with much of its cast intact.  The returning actors received another round of raves, with newcomers Rachel Griffiths and Judith Light deemed worthy additions to this Great American Play in the making.  All of these factors have combined to create strong box office for the production, resulting in its limited run being extended well into the spring, keeping this critical darling front and center during the crucial spring Tony voting season.

I would be shocked if Other Desert Cities doesn’t wind up among the Best Play nominees.  And with such a uniformly excellent cast, acting nods are virtually assured, although who will get them is still open for debate.  The smart money would be on awards darling Stockard Channing, possibly joined by Ms. Griffiths in the Best Actress category.  Both men in the cast are well positioned to score Supporting Actor recognition, and I suspect Joe Mantello will receive his umpteenth Best Director nomination as well.

Venus in Fur
And the new plays just keep coming!  Venus in Fur is another winner, an Off-Broadway hit that was again embraced by critics for its Broadway debut.  I personally adored this production, and would love to see it among the Best Play nominees.  I’m not sure it will make the cut, though, given the stiff competition this year (I believe there are around 12 new plays competing for 4 nomination slots).

While the show’s fate is uncertain, Nina Arianda will surely be among this year’s Best Actress nominees, making her two for two in her fast growing Broadway career.  She is sensational as Wanda, and anyone who hasn’t seen this rising star work her magic needs to rush out and buy tickets to Venus’ upcoming commercial transfer.  Depending on how well or poorly the men in this spring’s plays do, her costar Hugh Dancy could also find himself walking the Tony red carpet as a Best Actor nominee in June.

Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway
Honestly, the Tony committee should feel pretty stupid for doing away with the Special Theatrical Event category a few years back.  Had it been around, they would have the perfect excuse to nominate Broadway golden boy Hugh Jackman, thereby encouraging him to return to Broadway that much sooner and make some lucky producers very, very rich.  As it stands, they may still give him a special achievement Tony for his record-breaking one man show and Herculean fundraising efforts for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.  If not, their next chance to shower Jackman with praise will be in 2013, when he stars in Stephen Schwartz’s Houdini musical to what will surely be lots of acclaim and insane box office figures.

Private Lives
Oh, Kim Cattrall.  You gave it a nice shot.  You even managed to earn pretty decent reviews for your performance in this oft-revived Noel Coward comedy, which appears on Broadway every 10 years or so with big name stars making delicious fools of themselves.  But the show was simply too familiar, and I’m not sure the gays have completely forgiven you for making them wait so long for that first Sex in the City movie (we all know she was the sole holdout among the main cast when the movie deals were being drawn up).  But while I don’t foresee any Tony glory in your immediate future, you can go on with your head held high, and maybe return in a vehicle better suited to your persona.

In case you haven’t clued in, the fall is clearly the time to launch new plays.  And this one, by Pulitzer Prize finalist Theresa Rebeck, is another work that scored solid but not spectacular reviews.  Since Tony voters tend to favor serious dramas when picking Best Play nominees, I don’t think the comedic Seminar stands a very good shot in that category.  But Alan Rickman, who has been Tony nominated both times he has graced Broadway with his presence, will likely complete the hat trick and be three for three in the Best Actor category.

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