Sunday, June 10, 2012

2012 Tony Predictions: Best Play and Musical

And then there were two.  The only categories left to discuss are the two biggest awards of any Tony season, Best Play and Best Musical.  Winning either of these awards has a major effect on a show’s future prospects, ensuring a high profile that makes the work one of the first scripts regional and amateur theatres assess when programming their upcoming seasons.  For musicals especially, winning this award provides a document box office boost, increasing the length of the show’s run and raising the chances of it actually turning a profit.
As always, I must point out a couple of caveats:  1) I have not seen all of the nominated productions; and 2) I am predicting who will win, which is not the same as who should win.  History is riddled with examples of Tony’s top honor going to something other than the season’s best (find me one person who honestly believes The Music Man is a better overall show than West Side Story), and if that seems to be the case this year, I will say as much in the body of the article.

Best Play

Nominees:  Clybourne Park, Other Desert Cities, Peter and the Starcatcher, Venus in Fur

Since there is no separate playwriting category, the Best Play award functions as an acknowledgement of both the production as a whole and the script in particular, raising the desirability of a win in this category.  For the first time in years, every single nominee is a new American play, a refreshing change of pace from the recent domination of British shows winning this award.

While all of these plays are worthy, this is really a two-way race between Clybourne Park and Other Desert Cities.  Venus is Fur is a lean and thought-provoking work featuring two dazzling performances, but its early season opening has resulting in it losing a lot of buzz to more recent works.  And while many theatregoers are completely enamored with Peter and the Starcatcher, it will struggle to overcome its image as a kids’ play, something the high-minded Tony voters tend to scoff at no matter how well done.  Many would also argue that the direction has as much if not more to do with the Peter’s success than the actual script, a major problem since a Best Play win doubles as a writing honor.

Both Clybourne Park and Other Desert Cities have a lot of elements that Tony voters look for in potential Best Play winners.  Both are ensemble driven pieces that tackle serious issues with a healthy mix of humor and pathos, expertly acted and directed by some of the most talented people in the business.  And from a financial standpoint, Other Desert Cities is one of the most successful plays in years, having sustained strong box office and word of mouth despite being open for the better part of a year (name the last play that opened in October and was still running in early June).  In any other year, it would be the show to beat.

But there is something about Clybourne Park that compels people to vote for it.  While Cities had to settle for being “only” a Pulitzer Prize finalist, the racially charged Clybourne won the prestigious award in 2011.  The show does seem like a new type of play, whereas Cities is very much in the mold of the dozens of family dramas that have come before it.  Helped by a pitch perfect cast who has been with the show since its Off-Broadway premiere, Clybourne Park has the most momentum going into this evening, and I expect Tony voters to crown it this year’s Best Play.

Will Win:  Clybourne Park
Should Win:  Other Desert Cities

Best Musical

Nominees:  Leap of Faith, Newsies, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Once

I have no idea who the Leap of Faith producers paid off to get their critically panned show included among this year’s Best Musical nominees, especially considering the show’s dismal box office and premature closing indicate they didn’t have a lot of money to use for such bribery.  Granted, this has not been a great year for new musicals, especially compared to last year’s incredibly strong crop of new shows, but I have to believe there was a more deserving potential nominee.  But all the money in the world couldn’t secure Faith a win in this category, so I guess there isn’t too much harm done.

Nice Work If You Can Get It really should be better than it actually is, but as last year’s Women on the Verge proved, putting a bunch of past Tony winners in the same room does not automatically produce Tony-worthy work.  Nice Work is perfectly serviceable, but there is nothing exciting or overly interesting about this by the numbers show.  Most of the people involved seem to be there only for the paycheck rather than a love of the material, as evidenced by the lackadaisical performances of both Matthew Broderick and, I hate to say it, Kelli O’Hara.  Kathleen Marshall would have been better off spending the year collecting Anything Goes royalty checks, and I can only hope her next show marks a return to form for the very talented choreographer/director.

From the moment its Broadway transfer was announced, I knew Newsies would be a frontrunner for the Best Musical trophy.  It is easily the most commercial new musical of the season, and potential touring profits have been a deciding factor in this category more than once.  The show’s family friendly song and dance routine is definitely entertaining, and now that Disney has finally stopped playing coy and announced the show for an open-ended run, I expect Newsies to easily outlast the rest of this season’s new shows.  It is not high art, but it is well-done escapist entertainment, which wins the Tony more often than not.

However, I think Disney got the timing wrong on this one.  Had the show opened in April instead of in March, it would still be riding high on its post-opening buzz and sail into an easy Tony victory.  But the show has been running just long enough that we are starting to see some backlash against its lowly ambitions, and the flaws in its slickly-presented façade are more apparent in hindsight.  And the people who realize that Newsies isn’t quite as good as Disney would have you believe will surely vote for Once as the season’s best new show.

At first I was skeptical of Once, fearing this stage adaptation of an Oscar-winning indie film would quickly devolve into two-and-a-half hours of emotionally manipulative sentimentality accompanied by plaintive singer-songwriter style music.  But the show won me over with its expert execution and genuine heart, moving me in a way no other new musical has this season.  While small in scale, Once is large in ambition, and I’m happy to say is succeeds in achieving its lofty goals.  There is more invention and feeling in Once than in the other nominees combined, and the cherry on top of this musical sundae are two fantastic leading performances by breakout stars Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti.

Once deserves the Best Musical trophy.  It is the best written show of the year, and the acting is the most truthful and heartfelt I’ve seen all season.  No one should be surprised if Newsies takes the prize tonight (I certainly won’t be), but I think Once has built up enough momentum that it might actually triumph over Disney’s pre-ordained classic.  Yes, this year has not been a great one for new musicals, but these two shows are definitely worthy of Broadway and beyond.

Will and Should Win:  Once

And that’s it for my 2012 Tony predictions!  Tune in to the Tony Awards telecast tonight at 8 to see how I did, and check back in the coming days for my reaction to Broadway’s biggest night.  If you’ve missed any of my previous prediction blogs, check them out below:

Best Actor (*Note:  I’ve amended my prediction for Best Actor in a Musical.  A lot of people seem to think Jeremy Jordan has this one in the bag, and since he was a close second for me I’ve upgraded him to “Will Win.”  Danny Burstein still “should win,” but I’m thinking this is Jordan’s year.)
Best Actress
Best Featured Actor
Best Featured Actress
Best Book and Score
Best Direction and Choreography

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