Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tony Watch: Assessing the 2011-2012 Broadway Season Part 7

Matthew Broderick and the cast of Nice Work If You Can Get It celebrate their Best Musical Tony nominaton.
We’re in the home stretch of the spring season.  Only five more shows to discuss before next week’s Tony nominations, and they are:

The Lyons
When Tony Award winner Linda Lavin passed on the Broadway transfers of both Follies and Other Desert Cities in order to play the lead role in The Lyons, she raised quite a few industry eyebrows.  But something about the script for this Off-Broadway premiere – which at the time had no intention of transferring – caught her eye, and in hindsight it’s clear Lavin knew what she was doing.  The play’s strong reviews prompted a late season Broadway transfer, where it again opened to much critical praise for the play as a whole and Lavin’s performance in particular.
It will be interesting to see just how far The Lyons can infiltrate the Tony Awards in this very crowded season.  Its transfer to Broadway has been entirely merit-based, and opening just before the Tony eligibility cutoff date ensures it is fresh in everyone’s minds.  Will that be enough to net the work a Best Play nomination against its higher profile competition?  It just might be. 
Lavin is in a very strong position to secure a Best Actress nomination, and some of her costars may even join her for the ride.  Fellow Tony-winner Dick Latessa is well-respected in the theatrical community and giving another critically praised performance, and the young Michael Esper is so strong in the show that he’s managed to stand out next to such industry heavyweights.  Neither performer can be ruled out of the Supporting Actor race, and The Lyons could well end up being the Little Show That Could.

Nice Work If You Can Get It
One of the biggest question marks heading into the spring season was the “new” Gershwin musical Nice Work If You Can Get It.  A thorough reworking of Oh Kay, one of George and Ira’s lesser known musicals, Nice Work sports a cast and creative team with plenty of Tony pedigree.  Both of its stars have multiple Tony nominations to their name, and director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall is still riding high on the success of last season’s hit Anything Goes.  Yet the show received little pre-opening press or buzz, with many taking the lack of info as a sign that the show was on the road to disaster.
But now the show has opened to good if not great reviews, and more importantly has performed quite strongly in New York’s other theatrical contests like the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards.  Like The Lyons, being so new has certainly helped Nice Work in this area, and all that momentum makes the show a serious Tony contender.  I predict it will indeed manage to nab one of the four coveted Best Musical nominations, a major victory for a show no one was even talking about a month ago.
Other all-but-guaranteed nominations: leading lady Kelli O’Hara for Best Actress and Kathleen Marshall for Best Choreography (and possibly Best Direction), as the latter is definitely working within her wheelhouse here.  Another likely nominee is Judy Kaye for her scene stealing comic turn, and while his lukewarm reviews aren’t very encouraging, Matthew Broderick cannot be completely ruled out of the Best Actor race.  And I expect one or more of the show’s design elements to get nominated, with Martin Pakledinaz’s flapper era costumes a particularly strong contender.

The Columnist
This new play from Manhattan Theatre Club certainly has a Tony-worthy pedigree.  Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Auburn (Proof) and directed by Tony-winning director Daniel Sullivan (also Proof, as well as last season’s Merchant of Venice), the show stars multiple Tony winner John Lithgow as a 1960s era newspaper columnist named Joseph Alsop.  Unfortunately, The Columnist seems to have been lost among the plethora of shows that have opened in the past two weeks, and I don’t foresee it being much of a contender for this year’s awards.

Don’t Dress for Dinner
Hopefully Roundabout will finally learn a lesson after their extremely anemic offerings this season.  They need to stop producing subpar Broadway revivals of plays no one has heard of or cares about.  With tens of thousands of existing plays to choose from, not to mention the thousands more awaiting a first production, there’s no excuse for Roundabout to continually pick such poor material.  Don’t Dress for Dinner has earned some of the worst reviews of the spring, and the best it can hope for is to finish out its limited run without a premature closing.

Leap of Faith
An extremely last minute addition to the Broadway season facilitated by the closing of the Harry Connick Jr. bomb On a Clear Day, the new musical Leap of Faith ended the Broadway season on a whimper.  Critically reviled, I can’t imagine Faith ended up among this year’s Best Musical nominees, even with such weak competition.  The score by perpetual Tony bridesmaid Alan Menken has a better chance at a nomination, especially since it was just announced that the score for Once will be ineligible since it was written for the movie and not specifically for the stage.
Since by all accounts the libretto for Faith is one of the show’s primary problems, I’m ruling it out of the Best Book category, which leaves Raul Esparza as the only other real chance the show has at some Tony love.  And even then, it’s entirely possible that the four-time Tony nominee will find himself excluded from the Best Actor race due to the poor quality of his star vehicle.

And that, ladies and gentleman, brings us to the official end of the 2011-2012 Broadway season!  Be sure to check back on Tuesday when the Tony Award nominations are announced to see how I did with my predictions, and look for further Tony chatter throughout the month of May leading up to the big night on June 10th.  I can’t wait to talk more, and I hope you’ll join me for the ride.
And in case you missed my previous Tony Watch articles, you can catch up on them here:

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