Monday, April 9, 2012

Tony Watch: Assessing the 2011-2012 Broadway Season Part 3

Audra, wake up.  We have to go to the Tony Awards.  You got nominated for the gazillionth time.
Spring is upon us, and the mad dash to open before the Tony eligibility cutoff date has begun.  The past week has already seen three Broadway openings, and another eleven shows are scheduled to debut between now and the end of April.  It’s easy to fall behind during this crowded season, so if I want to discuss which shows have the best shot at those coveted Tony nominations (which of course I do), I’d better get crackin’. 
I should admit here that I have no means seen all of these shows, so a lot of these predictions are educated guesses based on industry buzz and past Tony nominating trends.  Which is actually the best way to go about it anyhow, as the shows most likely to score multiple nominations are not necessarily the same as the ones most deserving of those nominations.  If I somehow leave off your personal favorite, it doesn’t necessarily mean I thought it was bad, I just think it is unlikely to do well with the Tony voters.  So let’s pick up right where I left off several months ago, and tackle the shows in chronological order starting with:
An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin
The Tony board has already announced that this concert and its two stars aren’t eligible in any of the existing award categories, although they could theoretically receive a Special Achievement Tony Award.  I find that unlikely, as the concert was good but not great, and both Patti and Mandy already have Tonys in recognition of their undeniable talent.
Bonnie and Clyde
In a purely merit-based system, Bonnie and Clyde would score several nominations despite having ended its run months ago, but closed shows have been historically handicapped when it comes to the Tonys.  Despite deserving a Best Musical nomination (it’s on par with a show like Memphis, a show which actually won that title two years ago), Bonnie and Clyde probably won’t be able to overcome all the awards politics standing between it and said nomination.  The score, easily the best one composer Frank Wildhorn has ever written, stands a much better chance of actually securing a nomination given the weak competition in the New Musical categories. 
The show’s two charismatic leads are unfortunately out of luck. Laura Osnes’ fine portrayal of Bonnie Parker doesn’t stand much of a chance in the incredibly competitive Best Actress in a Musical Character, which includes such favorites as Audra McDonald, Bernadette Peters, and Kelli O’Hara.  Rising star Jeremy Jordan almost certainly will be nominated for Best Actor, but it will be for his work in Newsies, not this.  But the ever resilient Wildhorn doesn’t seem fazed by any of this, and like a madman is readying a revival of his odious Jekyll and Hyde for another critical thrashing next season.
Stick Fly
The competition for Best Musical may be light, but the Best Play category is so overloaded with heavy hitting contenders that someone will surely get snubbed.  A play like Stick Fly, without any big name talent and only a lukewarm critical reception, doesn’t stand a chance of infiltrating the race, and it’s only real shot at Tony is a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Condola Rashad (daughter of the Tony-winning Phylicia Rashad).
On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever
Remember this show?  It opened to one of the worst critical drubbings of any show this season, closed soon thereafter, and was promptly forgotten by almost everyone.  I personally didn’t see the show, and I have a couple of friends who swear it was actually brilliant, though I find that hard to believe.  Taking an already problematic show, completely reconceptualizing it, and casting leading man Harry Connick Jr. in a role that robs him of his trademark southern boy charm doomed the show before it even started.  The only redeeming quality seems to have been a standout supporting performance by newcomer Jessie Mueller, a name I fully expect to be among the lucky nominees when they are announced on May 1st.
Lysistrata Jones
Poor Lysistrata Jones.  It mistook encouraging reviews for its Off-Broadway run as permission to graduate to the big leagues, and suffered greatly for that presumption.  Despite a rave review from Times critic Ben Brantley (who apparently saw a different show than literally everyone else), the show closed within a month of opening.  The general consensus is that the show, riddled with poor writing and unmemorable tunes, needed a major rewrite before attempting Broadway, and won’t really be a contender for this year’s awards.  A lack of competition could see Lysistrata undeservingly crop up among the Best Book or Best Score nominees, but every other aspect of it will and should be forgotten.
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
Porgy and Bess has proven to be one of the most divisive productions of the season, thanks mostly to Diane Paulus and Suzan-Lori Parks reconceiving a classic four hour opera as a two and a half hour book musical.  I’m not familiar with the opera, although given the quality of the show’s remaining music I can understand how cutting so much of George Gershwin’s rhapsodic score would anger some people.  But as far as I’m concerned, what’s left is still an incredibly moving piece of theatre that easily earns a place among the four Best Musical Revival nominees.  There’s also some great production design on display, especially when it comes to the lights, and a technical nomination or two for this lavish Porgy certainly isn’t out of the question. 
All but guaranteed is a near-unprecedented seventh Tony nomination for star Audra McDonald, who is giving the performance of a lifetime as Bess and is universally beloved by the theatrical community.  McDonald can safely start shopping for a Tony gown now, as the only real question here is if the four-time Tony winner can triumph over the equally amazing Jan Maxwell from Follies.  As Porgy, Norm Lewis didn’t receive the critical love letters afforded McDonald, but turns in strong work and will hopefully be able to finally add “Tony nominee” to his resume after this season’s nominations.  And Phillip Boykin, whose towering work as the villainous Crown comes closest to matching McDonald’s level of excellence, should make an appearance among the Supporting Actor nominees.
I have to stop there for now, but please continue to check back over the coming weeks for more speculation on Tony-worthiness as the month marches on.

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