Monday, April 23, 2012

Tony Watch: Assessing the 2011-2012 Broadway Season Part 4

Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti in Once
There are so many shows opening these days on the Great White Way, I don’t even have time to come up with a pithy opening paragraph.  Picking up right where I left out, let’s talk about the Tony nomination prospects for:

The Road to Mecca
This has not been the best season for the Roundabout Theatre Company.  The once-mighty non-profit has overindulged in its habit of producing merely adequate revivals of merely adequate plays, trapping well-respected theatrical talent in productions that are frankly beneath them.  The Road to Mecca has done nothing to change that trend, and will likely be forgotten by all of the major awards-granting bodies.

Manhattan Theatre Club, on the other hand, continues to win over both critics and audiences with highly praised revivals of acknowledged classics in addition to their adventurous new works.  The first Broadway production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wit will certainly be among this year’s Best Revival nominees, and MTC’s artistic director Lynne Meadow is a contender for the Best Direction award as well.  Cynthia Nixon’s universally praised star turn makes her a shoe-in for a Best Actress nomination, although winning said award will be a much trickier feat.  On both the musical and play fronts, there has been spectacular work from Broadway’s leading ladies this season, and the Best Actress races are shaping up to be two of the most exciting and unpredictable of the this year’s awards.

Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It
This one man show’s run was so brief that even if the Best Theatrical Event Tony still existed, William Shatner might not qualify for it.  Without that category to compete in, this show doesn’t stand a chance.

Death of a Salesman
Take an undisputed theatrical classic, add an unmistakably talented Oscar winner in the lead role, mix well, and you have one of the event shows of the spring.  One of several Pulitzer Prize winners to grace Broadway this season, Salesman is top tier material, and this revival has been embraced by the entire theatrical community.  Although he is about 20 years too young for the role, audiences have been entranced by Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s searing portrayal of the doomed Willy Loman, and Tony voters will surely follow suit by granting him a Best Actor nomination.
But Hoffman isn’t the only thing critics are raving about in this Salesman.  It scored high marks across the board, making it a contender in several of the big categories and an assured Best Revival nominee.  Of the actors, Linda Emond stands the best chance of being nominated alongside Hoffman for her portrayal of Willy’s wife (also named Linda), but the supporting cast can’t be counted out.  With seven Tony Awards for direction already to his name, Mike Nichols is in as good a position as anyone to snag one of the five hotly contested Best Director nominations, and if it wasn’t a reproduction of the original 1949 design and therefore ineligible, the much-ballyhooed scenic design would be a contender as well.

In recent years, the Best Musical race has invariably come down to a competition between the slickly realized Commercial Success and the artistically daring Critics’ Darling.  Once will surely be this season’s representative of the latter category, putting it in the company of shows like The Scottsboro Boys, Fela!, and Next to Normal that have all attempted to take down their more mass-market competition.  The good news for Once is that the Critics’ Darling always winds up with a host of Tony nominations; the bad news is that it tends to lose out in the major categories.
Once will surely be nominated for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score, by virtue of its strong reviews and weak competition.  It even stands a good chance of winning the latter two awards, although a Best Musical victory is something of a long shot due to Tony politics best dealt with at a later date.  By virtue of starring in one of the season’s best reviewed musicals, lead performers Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti cannot be counted out of the acting races, although Kazee is more likely to actually score recognition than Milioti, whose category is shaping up to be a bloodbath.

Jesus Christ Superstar
Let’s be honest: there’s really only one Best Musical Revival slot still up for grabs.  Follies, Porgy and Bess, and Evita are all but assured nominations, and I suspect Jesus Christ Superstar will end up with the fourth and final slot.  I’ve already mentioned how the critically lambasted On a Clear Day doesn’t stand a chance in this category, and Superstar is simply a better-realized production than last fall’s Godspell.  It doesn’t hurt that this Superstar arrived on Broadway due to merit and popular demand, and it earns brownie points for solving a lot of the problems inherent in mounting this notoriously hard to stage work.
Other than the revival race, its prospects for awards are pretty grim.  The acting amounts to little more than pained looks, as all of the performers are clearly more focused on getting through Webber’s beast of a score than emoting.  I wouldn’t rule out Des McAnuff’s direction from the nomination pool, as he is largely responsible for what makes this Superstar special, and has been nominated for far less impressive work (Jersey Boys remains one of the most overrated musicals of the past 10 years).  I would really like to see a choreography nomination for Lisa Shriver’s surprising work on the show, but with song and dance spectacles making a comeback and several perpetually nominated choreographers (Kathleen Marshall, Rob Ashford) eligible for this season’s Tonys, Shriver faces an uphill battle.
I’ve just over a week to speculate on the 15(!) remaining productions of this season, so look for another one of these Tony articles sooner rather than later.

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